Jason Day believes Rory McIlroy is in a much better place
WGC-Accenture Matchplay champion says McIlroy will learn from Honda experience
Jason Day: “He [McIlroy] looks like he is in a much better place than last year. Everything is kind of balanced, and he’s engaged to Caroline.”Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Everyone needs heroes, but the pressure of trying to match their feats can sometimes be a millstone around the neck of even the most talented.
Take Rory McIlroy, who has opened a debate about his ability under pressure following his car crash performance for most of the afternoon in Sunday’s final round of the Honda Classic.
Five bogeys and a double bogey are hardly Tiger-like numbers, but as recently crowned WGC-Accenture Match Play champion Jason Day pointed out, Woods made winning look so routine that Sunday’s carnage at PGA National came as something of a shock to the golfing public.
Easy to win
“You guys have been blessed by seeing Tiger Woods win for so many years and being number one for I think 12 years now, [so] that people in general think it’s easy to win,” Day said at Trump National Doral, ahead of this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.
“It’s hard. It’s not easy to go out there and just do it. I mean, McIlroy played flawless golf over the first three days, and once again, the Honda Classic, the PGA National, is not an easy golf course.
“There’s a lot of water everywhere. The finish is very tough. The back nine is very, very brutal. You get any sort of wind that’s kind of swirling around and it makes it very tough.”
Day and McIlroy have long had a mutual admiration and the Australian, who is now rated as one of the favourites for the Masters following a runner-up and a third place finish at Augusta National in the last three years, still saw positives from McIlroy’s performance in Palm Beach.
“Sometimes you come out and you play great and you feel good and there is no pressure on you,” he said. “Look at Rory’s wins at the US Open and the PGA – he won by eight.
“But sometimes you come out and it just doesn’t feel right and it just doesn’t happen. I just think this was more of a learning thing for him.
“He has had a win and two seconds in his last six starts. I just know he is going to win this year.
“He looks like he is in a much better place than last year and everything is kind of balanced, and he’s engaged to Caroline.
“He seems very motivated . . . I’m expecting some pretty great things from him this year and that shot to 18 at the Honda was pretty special.”
Like Day and McIlroy, Accenture Match Play runner-up Victor Dubuisson was also inspired by Woods, most particularly by the world number one’s victory in the 1997 Masters.
More fascinating than the Frenchman’s press conference was the interest he has generated in the US media since he took Day to the 23rd hole in Tucson, producing two miraculous recoveries from the desert.
The 23-year is coy about his childhood and while he confirmed in Miami yesterday he left school aged 10 or 12 and was pretty much “alone”, he refused to divulge more personal details.
“No, just no personal family questions,” he said politely. “I don’t like to think about that.”
Now resident in Andorra, Dubuisson has found a mentor in former Ryder Cup player and Open Championship runner- up Thomas Levet, who has known him since he was a 14- year-old amateur with the French national team.
Levet believes Dubuisson can create a boom in French golf, but when asked if the player had confided in him about his childhood, Levet said: “It was not an easy childhood and you can ask him but he’s not going to answer more than this.
“It was difficult, when you leave school at 10, 12, parents are not that much around because they need to work and it’s difficult, so you don’t want to talk about bad things with them. ”
Describing Dubuisson – a self-confessed loner – as “sensitive”, Levet explained that his protégé finds it difficult to live in the media spotlight.
Asked to sum him up, Levet said: “He just he made me cry one day, just telling me, ‘I’ve got pictures of you in my room, you’re my hero’.
“And you say, ‘Me? Your hero? Why’s that?’
“‘Because you’re French, you won this and that, and I haven’t done it.’ But he’s on the way now.”
Now ranked 23rd in the world, Dubuisson is in a marquee group at the revamped Blue Monster at Trump National Doral with world number 22 Hideki Matsuyama and 24th-ranked Luke Donald.
The world’s top 24 have grouped according to their ranking for the first two rounds at Doral, with Tiger Woods expected to join Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson, despite his withdrawal with back spasms after just 13 holes in the final round of the Honda Classic
McIlroy will play with Day and Phil Mickelson, while Graeme McDowell, currently 15th in the world, joining Bubba Watson and Steve Sticker on a course that has undergone enormous change since it was purchased by Doonbeg proprietor Donald Trump and redesigned by Olympic Games architect Gil Hanse last year.