Si­lence may not be golden for Woods, says McIl­roy

World No1 be­lieves Amer­i­can could strug­gle with­out a crowd Me­mo­rial boasts strong­est ever field with 42 out of top 50

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Golf - By James Cor­ri­gan

Rory McIl­roy ex­pects the deci­bel ta­bles to be turned when he plays with Tiger Woods at the Me­mo­rial in the strong­est reg­u­lar PGA Tour field ever as­sem­bled.

While McIl­roy has pre­vi­ously con­fessed to be­ing dis­tracted by the cir­cus that al­ways ac­com­pa­nies Woods, he feels that the 15-time ma­jor-win­ner will be the one who strug­gles to­day be­cause of the sound of be­hind-closed-doors si­lence. And he is talk­ing from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter fail­ing to fin­ish in the top 10 of any of the three events he has con­tested since last month’s restart.

“I’ve re­alised that it’s very hard for me to keep fo­cus out here,” McIl­roy said. “When there’s that en­ergy and the at­mos­phere, it’s easy to get into that mind­set … but in those first three weeks my mind was wan­der­ing and it was easy to lose con­cen­tra­tion.

“So, it was good just to dip my toe in, get a feel for what it was go­ing to be like. Some­one like Tiger hasn’t ex­pe­ri­enced that yet, and maybe he’s go­ing to find it a lit­tle weird out there to­mor­row with not hav­ing any fans, es­pe­cially with the amount of crowds that he has to deal with all the time.”

In­deed, Muir­field Vil­lage would oth­er­wise have been buzzing with an­tic­i­pa­tion at 1.17pm (6.17pm UK time) when McIl­roy, Woods and Brooks Koepka tee off at the event pro­moted by Jack Nick­laus, on the course he de­signed and con­trols.

Of course, this week was sup­posed to wit­ness the Open Cham­pi­onship at Royal St Ge­orge’s and al­though this dol­lar­fest at Ohio – a prize fund of $9.3mil­lion (£7.4mil­lion) and a win­ning cheque for $1.7mil­lion – can­not be­gin to live up to that billing, as a re­place­ment act it is hardly Huey Lewis and the News fill­ing in for the Bea­tles.

There are 42 of the world’s top 50 in at­ten­dance and four of these could usurp McIl­roy as No1 on Sun­day. Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Dustin John­son and, be­lieve it or not, Webb Simp­son, all have the op­por­tu­nity to claim the sum­mit, and with McIl­roy seem­ingly bereft of form af­ter the three-month hia­tus, it must be tempt­ing to peer up. Ex­cept McIl­roy be­lieves the old Rory is set to ap­pear again – the old Rory who in his 11 events im­me­di­ately be­fore the coro­n­avirus hooter sounded recorded two vic­to­ries, nine top-fives and 10 top-10s.

Not only has he ac­cli­ma­tised to the mute arena, but in the past two weeks he has been re­united with long-time coach, Michael Ban­non, who came over from North­ern Ire­land and moved into McIl­roy’s guest­house.

“It was the first time I’d seen him since the start of Fe­bru­ary,” McIl­roy said. “Ob­vi­ously, I’ve sent him videos but it’s hard for him to see what the ball flight is and all the stuff that goes along with be­ing a coach. For him to see how I’m hit­ting it, was a great thing.

“My club face was get­ting a lit­tle shut, my right arm was get­ting a lit­tle too much on top of the shaft in­stead of let­ting my right el­bow fold and I was get­ting a lit­tle bit of ex­ter­nal ro­ta­tion in my shoul­der. It was very ben­e­fi­cial to spend that time with him.”

There are also some new Tay­lor­Made P7MB irons in his bag, as well as a re­turn to a more oblig­ing driver, mak­ing McIl­roy sense a “proper restart” af­ter the restart.

“I saw a stat yes­ter­day that this field is stronger than the last eight Mas­ters [in terms of world rank­ings],” McIl­roy said. “So, we have this, we’ve a World Golf Cham­pi­onship [in two weeks], and then straight af­ter­wards the first ma­jor of the sea­son, the [US] PGA. It’s def­i­nitely the start of a big run.”

Mean­while, the Cur­tis Cup has been resched­uled for a sec­ond time to avoid a clash with the Sol­heim Cup next year.

The clash at Conwy will now take place on Aug 26-28.

In prac­tice: Rory McIl­roy has been work­ing on his swing af­ter re­u­nit­ing with his coach

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