McIlroy has the fear factor
World Number One, US PGA Champion and the player the US team fear the most, Rory McIlroy may be playing only his second Ryder Cup and first on US soil but he is the man to beat.
It has been a long time since Europe’s Ryder Cup Team featured the most feared golfer on the planet, but, given the nature of his dominance of the game since his second Major win six weeks ago, Rory McIlroy will arrive at Medinah Country Club as exactly that.
In a European Team packed with talismanic and vastly experienced figures, it is its youngest member – the 23 year old curly haired one – who is being portrayed as the man the USA have to take down in order to reclaim the Ryder Cup next Sunday night.
“Obviously he’s a marked man,” was Jim Furyk’s take on McIlroy’s current stature. “He’s the Number One in the world. He’s going to garner all the attention as well he should. He’s played phenomenal this year. He’s the present-day Tiger Woods and everyone’s eyes will be on him.”
Paul Azinger, the last American to Captain his side to Ryder Cup glory at Valhalla in 2008, last week claimed: “If we can beat Rory McIlroy, we win this Ryder Cup. Just like we used to do with Seve, and Europe has done with Tiger, the US have to figure out what slot he is in, either when he is teaming up with Graeme McDowell or in singles, and put our hottest players against him.”
While Azinger’s claim is technically nonsensical (McIlroy is, after all, one player in a very strong 12-man team), his and Furyk’s statements just go to show the effect McIlroy is having on his chosen profession at the moment.
And, like Ballesteros and Woods before him, it is the manner of the Northern Irishman’s dominance which has created the fear factor.
Not since Woods redefined the sport has there been a more talked about player in golf and rightly so. The child prodigy has grown up fast, winning two Majors in the same fashion as Woods used to apply in his pomp – by obliterating the field.
McIlroy’s form since his PGA Championship win six weeks ago has been nothing short of intimidating.
He followed his eight-shot win at Kiawah Island with another two victories in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Play-Offs series at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships, taking his winning tally for the season to four and establishing himself as the undisputed Number One player in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The man himself, a mere Ryder Cup rookie two years ago, is acutely aware of his new standing as the man they all want to beat and he is ready to stand up and be counted as one of Europe’s leaders on the course.
“I know there are a lot of older guys than me that are going to be on the European Team, but I feel like I'm in a position where I'd be one of the leaders of that team and if I feel strongly about something, I'll voice that,” said McIlroy.
“I think the big thing about the Ryder Cup is you have to be a good team member. You can't be afraid to voice your opinion. If you really feel strongly about something in the team room, you've got to stand up and speak.
“I’ll definitely know what The Ryder Cup is all about going to America this year. I probably didn’t realise just how big it was and what an amazing experience it was going to be before I got to Celtic Manor two years ago, but, at the same time, it will be a completely different experience this year as my first match in the States.
“We had the home crowd on our side last time and they really were like a 13th man because they were so behind us. This year will be very different on American soil with people not really wanting you to hole putts and things going a bit quiet when the Europeans are making putts and playing great shots.
“We won’t be able to feed off the crowd in any way whatsoever so I would imagine we will have to feed of ourselves and our partners and team mates.
“It is such a big deal now though and you have to conserve your energy for the first few days there because once Friday comes around you really have to be ready physical and mentally to go out there twice a day sometimes.
“Then there is the match play element which a tough format mentally anyway. It’s going to be a very tough week for everyone on the team and we are going to have to play some amazing golf to keep the trophy.”