by Ronan MacNamara
Rory McIlroy. By Golffile
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry are back on the PGA Tour for the first time since being part of Pádraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team in Whistling Straits last month as they tee it up at the CJ Cup at the Summit Club in Las Vegas.
The 2021/22 season provides McIlroy with the opportunity to put a turbulent season behind him which saw him pick up a win at the Wells Fargo Championship as well as seven top-10 finishes while struggling for consistency over the course of the super season where seven major championships were played and he never challenged in any of them.
His decision to switch from long-time coach Michael Bannon to Pete Cowan has drawn mixed reviews from the golfing world with many believing it is the missing ingredient in McIlroy challenging for major honours once again but others think Cowan is taking away the natural talent of McIlroy for a more fundamental technical version.
Since the pandemic hit, the Holywood native has fallen from number one in the world to 14th while a wave of young American talent has overtaken him in the world rankings. Despite that, McIlroy still feels he is the best player in the world when he has his A game and doesn’t feel he is too far away from getting back to his best.
“I think when I play my best, I'm the best player in the world,” he said. “Haven't played like that for a while, though, but I don't feel like I need to go that far back to whenever the pandemic hit, whatever it was, 18 months ago, I was the No. 1 player in the world. I don't have to look that far back to see my name at the top of the rankings.
“Obviously the last 18 months haven't been what I've wanted them to be, but if you keep it in perspective, I'm not that far away. And there's a ton of great players now that play obviously really, really good golf. I feel like the talent pool is just getting deeper and deeper every year, so you have to strive to keep trying to get better to stay where you want to stay.
“So, yeah, it's not the position I want to be in, but at the same time there's so many other guys that are trying to do the same thing as I'm doing and I realize the competition gets tougher each and every year and you just have to try to not just keep up with that, but try to become better.”
The four-time major champion made the headlines at the Ryder Cup for his poor performance in the foursomes and fourballs where he was dropped from a session for the first time in his career and his emotional post-round interview on the Sunday almost overshadowed the USA’s record-breaking win. When asked about his emotional interview, McIlroy admitted to being surprised by his reaction but also said it showed that he lets himself off the hook too often.
“I don't necessarily get that emotional about golf, so I guess in that way it surprised me. But as you know, it's a very emotionally charged week.
“I said afterwards that there were so many different thoughts and emotions. There was relief that I won a point, there was frustrating that I didn't get more out of myself and disappointment I didn't do more for the team, so there was so many sort of different emotions sort of going through me there and it was all just a little overwhelming in a way.
“I think sometimes I give myself too easy of a time and I try to play it off with, you know, golf doesn't define me and I've got balance in my life and I'm happy away from the course, and that's obviously very true, but if I'm honest, sometimes I sort of maybe use that as a way to lessen the blow if I don't play good golf.
“But I think it was a good thing for me. I think I realized a couple of things about myself that I hadn't, or maybe I had known but I was maybe trying to keep down and not let them out. I was surprised at how emotional I got, but then after a little bit of reflection over the last couple of weeks, I sort of realized why I did get that way,” he added.
The six-time Ryder Cup player came out in defence of Pádraig Harrington insisting that the captain couldn’t have done any more and that Europe just didn’t hit quality golf shots or hole their fair share of putts.
“I mean, from the whole process and being obviously involved and in the team room, there's not much more Padraig could have done. I said at the start, even before the week, the captains, they set the tone and they maybe create a little bit of the culture that week, but at the end of the day it's us, it's the players that are out there hitting the shots and trying to hole the putts, and Europe didn't hit the shots or hole the putts. When you look back on it, America just holed so many more putts than we did and got momentum early.
“I think that's the thing as well, they started matches so quick and they get the crowd on your side, they get momentum and when you're the away side and trying to fight back from that, it's very difficult.
“So, yeah, I mean, I certainly couldn't sit here and criticize anything that Padraig did. it was on the players to play better golf and hole putts and we didn't do that.”
McIlroy is on the PGA Tour Player Advisory Committee and after the R&A and USGA made the decision to limit the driver length to 46 inches which has been criticised by Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa, the two-time FedEx Cup winner doesn’t feel it will make a lot of difference to driving distances.
“It might make a difference going forward. I think the trend was there of guys going to longer clubs and using them, but I think it's more of a preventative measure. I think if this is as far as they want the ball to go, I think we're too far past like trying to roll it back, but if this is sort of setting the limit, I think it's just a preventative measure for the future. I don't think it will make a world of difference, but I was in all those meetings when we discussed it for quite a while and I think the majority of players are on board with it.”
Lowry had the week off last week after flying straight from Wisconsin to the east coast of Scotland for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship where he showed no signs of a post Ryder Cup hangover as he tied for 4th as Danny Willett cruised to victory.
Winning a PGA Tour event should be top of the Clara man’s agenda this year and it is important he starts the season well to continue his momentum from the summer and end the year on a high with the DP World Tour Championship to come on the European Tour.
The 2019 Open Champion kicks off his PGA Tour season as one of the most consistent players on the planet right now with 17 cuts made in a row including five top-10s and three finishes inside the top-20 since March.
It is hard to get excited for the off-season but Lowry should be targeting a fruitful winter period on both sides of the Atlantic.