Belfast Telegraph

Defiant Rory McIlroy ready to defend US PGA title

By Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy's golf game might have deserted him, but he still smoulders with the pride of a two-time Major champion.

There was rich defiance in McIlroy's voice as he looked forward to opening his defence of his US PGA title in Rochester, New York, today.

 

It came through loud and clear when the 24-year-old was reminded of a delicious moment of vindication at Kiawah Island last summer after he'd blasted out of a form slump with a sensational, record-breaking victory,

 

"Yeah, I love proving people wrong," said McIlroy. "I loved sitting up here last year on the Sunday night, just being able to show people who had their opinions and said things.

 

"It was nice to be able to do that."

 

The Holywood native swept to World No 1 with last year's PGA victory on the Ocean Course and appeared invincible as he picked up back-to-back wins in the FedEx Cup play-offs and then wrapped up the US-European money-list double in Dubai.

 

Yet he plummeted head-first off that pedestal this year as a combination of poor scheduling and an equipment change undermined his confidence and sparked the deepest and most protracted slump of his career.

 

In a harrowing year, McIlroy walked off the course after completing just 26 holes of the Honda Classic; described himself as being "a little lost" when missing the cut at the Irish Open and "brain dead" as he failed to make the weekend at last month's British Open in Muirfield.

 

Yet he was able to place a positive slant on these events yesterday, saying: "Whenever I do come out of this slump, I'd look back on this period as character building."

 

Though he insisted his new Nike equipment no longer was an issue, McIlroy conceded "the one thing I regret is not playing enough at the start of the year.

 

"I didn't play and I needed to get into a run of events – that's all I'd have done differently this year, just played a little bit more."

 

McIlroy believes the key to salvation lies in a conscious effort to strut his stuff when walking between shots and swinging the club "without a care once again ... just try to get going and try and get that positive energy back again."

 

Meanwhile, eyebrows shot up all around Europe when Paul McGinley (pictured) and Darren Clarke were 'drawn' together with US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson for the first 36 holes of the PGA Championship.

 

The two Ryder Cup warhorses, who used be good friends and close neighbours in Sunningdale, locked horns last year in a protracted and controversial battle for the captaincy of the European team at Gleneagles next year.

 

McGinley, voted into office in Abu Dhabi in January, yesterday showed the diplomatic skills which played no small part in his appointment as Ireland's first Ryder Cup captain, as he spoke of today's high-noon encounter (okay, it's 12.35) with Clarke on the first tee at Oak Hill.

 

Asked if he'd bumped into Clarke this week, McGinley confirmed: "Yes, I did. I saw him in registration. We shook hands and now we'll see each other on the tee tomorrow. I knew I'd be playing with Tom Watson and Darren was drawn with us," he added. "That's no problem ... It's fine."

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