Masters 2015: Rory McIlroy is not the master...yet
Paul McGinley tries to temper the hype around Rory McIlroy, but tips him to take Tiger's mantle
Rory McIlroy will be inducted into the company of legends should he complete a Grand Slam of Majors at this week's Masters.
If McIlroy dons the Green Jacket next Sunday to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in history, it'll be viewed widely as a coronation - the king is dead; long live King Rory!
Yet Europe's captain sensible, Paul McGinley, sounds a note of sanity amid all the hype and hullabaloo surrounding McIlroy's seventh appearance at Augusta.
Pointing out that McIlroy, although a four-time Major Champion, is still evolving as a player, the Dubliner insists it's inappropriate to compare him to Woods. McGinley has "no doubt" the Holywood star has what it takes to succeed Tiger as the figurehead of golf.
"Rory understands the pressures and expectations that come with being world No 1 and is very impressive in the way he embraces them. He's a far better and more focused player than he was 12 months ago, while he's evolving as a person too. Talking to him, it's incredible how much he gets it and how mature he is for such a young guy."
Yet, McGinley adds: "Rory knows he's not the finished article and, even now, it's not right to compare him to Woods.
"What Tiger did in his career is a yardstick and Rory is still evolving towards that. Every year he's getting better and better in so many ways but he still has a way to go before meeting the standards Tiger set. There are certain conditions in which he still needs to prove himself in order to be considered one of the all-round greats."
Still, McGinley says McIlroy is capable of dominating world golf for as long as his heart desires. "The biggest challenge Rory will face is keeping the fire lit in his heart. That's what made Tiger phenomenal and kept him at the top
"At the moment Rory has that incredible passion and he's had it for a number of years. Can he keep it burning for 20 years? Ultimately that'll determine how successful he's going to be and how many Majors he wins."
The youngster's outspoken support as World No 1 was decisive in McGinley's bid for the Ryder Cup captaincy in January 2013 - then McIlroy was a consummate leader in the field in Scotland.
The Masters at pristine Augusta National is as different to a Ryder Cup in Gleneagles as a stiletto knife to a claymore.
McIlroy's effortless power, natural draw and high ball-flight make his game a perfect fit for Augusta, but his sustained contribution to Europe's cause suggests he now also has the mental discipline and focus to succeed in the most bewitching arena of all.
"The confidence Rory showed in me actually gave me confidence in myself as captain … he was fantastic to manage," says McGinley.
One of the reasons McGinley sought the counsel of Sir Alex Ferguson in the run-up to the Ryder Cup was to learn how Fergie managed star players like Ryan Giggs or David Beckham at Old Trafford and ensure they weren't overburdened by responsibility or expectation.
"Rory's on a completely different plane than I ever was as a player," explains McGinley. "I'd played three Ryder Cups but always from number six to number 12 so the first thing I said to Rory was: 'It's very hard for me as a captain to relate to you as the world No 1 and the weight you have on your shoulders'."
As Rory's career graph rises, Tiger's, inevitably, is falling. McGinley lauds McIlroy for avoiding the millstone Woods created for himself by stating that his career goal was to better the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
"I wonder if that has hindered Tiger, more than anything else," he says. "If he doesn't reach that number, some people will say 'well he didn't get quite as good as Nicklaus'. That'd be a shame considering the career Woods had."
McIlroy occasionally is capable of cowing opponents the way Tiger used.
"He knows nobody else can match him when he finds that extra gear," McGinley adds. "If Rory drives the ball like Rory can, he'll intimidate others, maybe not as much as Tiger used but he's getting there."