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Rory McIlroy must get a grip so he can emulate Tiger Woods

By Karl MacGinty

If Rory McIlroy is to succeed Tiger Woods and become the most dominant player of his generation, the Holywood hero is going to have to take as firm a grip on his exhausting tournament schedule as his driver.

One of the secrets of Tiger's success was the ruthless way in which he pared down his playing commitments, ensuring he was fresh enough to challenge for victory virtually every time he teed it up at a tournament.

McIlroy certainly is not the only player in the 29-man field at this week's Tour Championship at East Lake staggering under the weight of the ludicrously intense conclusion to the FedEx Cup campaign in the US.

Yet during that Tigeresque hat-trick of victories in The Open at Hoylake, the Bridgestone World Golf Championship at Firestone and the US PGA at Valhalla that propelled him back to World No 1, McIlroy expended infinitely more energy than his rivals.

As global attention focuses on every stroke he plays on the golf course and virtually every step he takes off it, the pressure on McIlroy is exponentially greater. Effectively, he's coming to terms with life in Tiger's world.

On several occasions during the FedEx Cup play-offs McIlroy has shown signs of mental fatigue, most notably last Saturday and Sunday in the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills.

As his seventh high-octane tournament in nine weeks came to a climax in Denver, McIlroy bizarrely four-putted from inside five feet for treble-bogey six at the 12th in his third round, then took another four putts to get down from 19 feet for double-bogey at the same hole the following afternoon. This was not the first time a fatigued McIlroy four-putted at a key moment.

During his spectacularly successful conclusion to 2012, as McIlroy, back at No 1 following wins at the US PGA, Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships, closed in on Europe's Race to Dubai title, the youngster's defence of his title at the Hong Kong Open was cut short in similarly surprising circumstances.

A jaded four-putt at 18 on Friday at Fanling gave McIlroy a much-needed but disappointing weekend off. The following week in Dubai he spoke earnestly of the need to trim his playing schedule.

Scheduling is "very important," McIlroy insisted. "I think I've played 25 or 26 tournaments this year (2012) and what takes it out of you is being in contention, feeling the pressure and adrenaline on Sundays and having to get yourself back up for the next week.

"I think that takes more out of you than finishing 30th or 40th.

"So I feel like scheduling is going to be a big thing for me going forward," the Ulsterman continued. "Maybe not play quite as many tournaments and feel fresh and ready for every time I tee it up. If I do feel that way, I've a better chance to win."

Despite his best intentions, at East Lake, starting tomorrow, McIlroy plays his 21st tournament of 2014 and could have 26 under his belt by the time the year ends.

In an ideal world, McIlroy would compete in a similar number of tournaments per calendar year as Tiger did in 2006, when he completed the most recent of his two hat-tricks at the British Open, Firestone and the US PGA.

That year, Tiger teed it up competitively just 20 times.

If he wishes to emulate Tiger's feats, McIlroy will need to be more ruthless with his scheduling than his loyalty to Europe will permit.

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