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
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