Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

McIlroy hopes hang on final major

Rory McIlroy has been backed at 28/1 seventh favourite to lift the Wanamaker Trophy

At the press conference to announce his multi-million pound deal with Nike in January, Rory McIlroy was keen to stress major titles mattered more to him than money.

"I don't play golf for the money, I am well past that," McIlroy said in Abu Dhabi after signing a deal reported to be worth around £150million over 10 years.

"I'm a major champion and world number one, which I have always dreamed of being, and feel this is a company that can help me sustain that and win even more major titles.

"At the end of 2013, if I have not won another major I will be disappointed."

Two months after expressing those thoughts, McIlroy was replaced as world number one by Tiger Woods and now finds himself third in the rankings behind Phil Mickelson.

And unless he retains his US PGA title next week at Oak Hill, that disappointment of not winning a major championship in 2013 will hit home too.

The bookmakers have the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland as a 28/1 seventh favourite to lift the Wanamaker Trophy again and it is hard to argue with those odds. In fact it could easily be argued they are not generous enough.

McIlroy won five times last year, including his second major by eight shots at Kiawah Island, to finish top of the money list on both sides of the Atlantic.

But he has recorded only one top-five finish in a turbulent 2013 that saw him damage his reputation by walking off the course during his defence of the Honda Classic and bending one of his new clubs out of shape during the final round of the US Open.

In the majors he has managed just one round under 70 - a closing 69 in the US Masters - and is a collective 28 over par after missing the cut in the Open Championship after rounds of 79 and 75.

That opening round at Muirfield led McIlroy to offer a withering assessment of his own performance, labelling it "brain dead" and claiming he sometimes felt "like I'm walking around out there and I'm unconscious".

Such honesty made for great headlines, but is it great for McIlroy?

"Sometimes (I wish I wasn't so honest) but it's just me," he said. "I am not going to sit up here and pour my heart out but I will tell you how I am thinking and what's on my mind. If I get asked a reasonable question I will give a reasonable answer."

The answer to McIlroy's problems on the course may prove harder to find, but the Ryder Cup star is hoping a few enjoyable rounds with friends back home in Northern Ireland last week, coupled with the advice of putting coach Dave Stockton, will set him on the right track.

He insists his game was in worse shape at this time last year before a fifth-place finish in Akron kickstarted a stunning second half of the season.

And he believes competing at Firestone is the perfect preparation for what lies ahead at Oak Hill, venue for the 1995 Ryder Cup and the scene of Shaun Micheel's US PGA triumph in 2003.

"They are both old-fashioned, traditional golf courses," McIlroy said. "The fairways at Oak Hill have a little more bend to them, you have to shape a lots of shots at Oak Hill; here a lot of them are straight out in front but the greens are similar, quite small and sloping and the par threes at both courses are strong holes.

"I've heard the rough is up at Oak Hill from when I was there six weeks ago so I'm looking forward to seeing what that's like."

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