McIlroy sends an early warning
World No 2 quickly regains rhythm, declares himself ready to challenge
AFTER getting to grips with the Glendower layout in front of a big following gallery yesterday, hot favourite Rory McIlroy declared himself ready to challenge for the SA Open title.
The world No 2 teed it up around 6.30am yesterday to shake off the December rust and get to know the course he will hopefully spend the next four days playing.
In front of a huge gallery, including former cricket star Jacques Kallis, he thrilled with his distance and demeanour, once again winning over the fans. Afterwards he said he was keen to be in the mix come Sunday afternoon.
“I know if I play the way I can, I’ll have a good chance to win,” said the four-time Major winner and current PGA Tour FedEx Cup champion.
He said his game wasn’t in bad shape despite changing clubs recently and employing a putting coach in England’s Phil Kenyon.
“I’m feeling okay with my game. I’ve spent a lot of time in Dubai recently, before and after Christmas, hitting balls and practicing.
“I got here this morning having not hit a ball in four days, so the first few holes I played today (yesterday) weren’t great, but once I got into rhythm, things got better. Once I got going, I hit it well and made a few birdies,” said the Northern Irishman.
“Today was really all about me getting to know the course, knowing what lines to take and seeing which clubs to hit off the tees. I felt really comfortable towards the end of my round.”
McIlroy said it would be crucial to find the fairways. “There’s been a lot of rain so the course is soft. That means there’s a premium on finding the fairways. If you can hit them, you’re going to score well, especially with the greens holding.”
Regarding the new clubs in the bag this week and the appointment of Kenyon, who’s been tasked with fixing McIlroy’s mid-season putting woes of last year, he said: “I hit rock bottom at the PGA Championship (when he missed his second Major cut in the year). I felt lost, so I decided to work with Phil through the finals of the FedEx Cup, but I didn’t expect the changes to come so quickly.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable putting again, while as for the clubs, they’re what I’ve picked for this week and it could be different next week. I’m in a nice position to try different things. I’ll see how it goes this week.
“It felt good out there today, but you never really know until you have a scorecard in your hands; playing competitively is different. It’s the person at the end of the club that matters, so as long as I’m swinging well, that’s what matters.”
He spoke frankly about his close friendship with South African golf legend Ernie Els and how the two are working together for the betterment of humanity.
“Ernie did me a favour to play at the Irish Open a few years ago and I’m now repaying the favour by playing in South Africa. He helped me out with my foundation and he’s obviously involved with ‘Els for Autism’ and I’ll do whatever I can to be of assistance to that great cause. I’ve become close to his family and am aware of all the things they’re doing in autism; it’s just incredible the work they’re doing.
“I’m honoured to be here to help out once again. There is nothing better in life than to be in a position to help people in any way, people who’re in need. It’s a role I take very seriously.”
But while McIlroy will be hoping to be top dog this week, there’s a tiger lurking. That’s Tiger Woods, who returned to the game at the end of last year after an absence of over a year, and McIlroy said he hoped the 14-time Major winner was now over his injury problems.
“I was as intrigued as everyone to see what he did in his comeback,” said McIlroy. “His swing looked good, he showed flashes of good golf, but he also looked happy and that’s important. You’ve got to have fun out there and hopefully we continue to see that.
“If he’s at peace with himself and stays healthy, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t play good golf until he decides to hang up the clubs.” HOT SHOT: Northern Ireland’s world No2 Rory McIlroy is happy with his new-look game heading into tomorrow’s SA Open, for which he is the favourite.