Rory McIlroys late-season flourish of form bodes well for a strong finish with the Ryder Cup in the offing, writes Sport360s Joy Chakravarty.
There is no denying the fact that after Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy remains the second biggest draw in golf. That was in evidence once again. Just like the former American world No1, there seems to be extra vitality in the celebration of a McIlroy win by the fans, just as there seems to be extra scrutiny in whatever he does.
You know someone is important to the sport when each move of the athlete is analysed and debated. Be it golf-related – like that famous switch to Nike clubs, or the walkoff at the 2013 Honda Classic – or personal issues like his engagement and subsequent break-up with Caroline Wozniacki, which country to represent in Olympics or even his training routine in the gym, people always have an opinion on McIlroy.
Obviously, these last few months, it has been about his refusal to go to the Olympics, and his issues with the putter. When he made the decision on Rio, McIlroy did look irritated by the backlash he faced and some of his remarks seemed casual and offensive.
As for the putting, he had constantly been outside the top-100 of the PGA Tour’s overall putting stats despite being in the top five of the overall driving stats.
And while everyone has been going ga-ga over the turnaround in his putting during the Deutsche Bank Championship, there were a couple of other points that I thought were significant as he beat Paul Casey by two shots at TPC Boston for his first PGA Tour win after 477 days.
It really was impressive how he kept at it after the disastrous start he had to the tournament. After the first three holes, McIlroy was fourover.
In tournaments on the PGA and European Tour, that’s dead and buried as far as chances of winning the title are concerned.
Many experts feel it was the slight adjustment he made to his putting grip on the second day that led to his resurgence. I feel it was how he willed himself to fight back to even-par score at the end of the opening round that kick-started the resurrection. I thought it was remarkable that he still believed in himself despite that horror start.
As for the putting, even the way in which he went about making the change, showed the terrific self-belief he has. The week before The Barclays, McIlroy changed his putter, switching to Scotty Cameron. And then at the start of Deutsche Bank Championship, he changed his putting coach and started working with Phil Kenyon.
When asked why he chose Kenyon, McIlroy said it was because Kenyon knew how to work with the existing stroke. All his clients have very different putting strokes, which meant he wasn’t working to a fixed blueprint.
Not for one moment in all these months of tribulation, did McIlroy think of changing his own putting stroke. He knew throughout he had the right gun, all it needed was minor re-caliberating. Once again, I felt he displayed exceptional self-belief.
While we are on McIlroy, there is something I wanted to point out about him and Olympics. I thought it was very classy of him to admit he might have been wrong about golf getting back into the Games. Not many people have the courage and character to do that.
And finally, no prizes for guessing who had the biggest smile as McIlroy went about his business on Monday. This was just the boost European captain Darren Clarke was looking for three weeks before the Ryder Cup. The injury to Henrik Stenson, and the form of McIlroy must have been Clarke’s biggest worry ahead of the Hazeltine clash. They are the two highest ranked players in the team and the undoubted leaders on the course. It was important they performed well in the run-up to the tournament, and Clarke got exactly what he was hoping for.
During the EurAsia Cup played between Europe and Asia at the beginning of the year, European captain Darren Clarke had made it very clear that he was going to depend heavily on statistics come the Ryder Cup.
That tournament in Kuala Lumpur was when we came to know about the company, 15th Club, a group of guys who have turned golf into a complete game of numbers.
They have researched and analysed all kinds of stats and Clarke admitted later that many of his pairings that week were based on what the computers churned out.
American captain Davis Love III seems to be going the same way. He told the media categorically that he is going decide on his wildcards and pairings based on what his stats team come out with.
You can understand the importance of basing your judgement on facts and figures, but I certainly don’t want captaincy to be dictated by computer algorithms. Hopefully, human input and gut instinct will also play a part.