McIlroy has no fears of 'marked man' role
GOLF:NO CROSSHAIRS. No bulls-eye target. Rory McIlroy, who once upon a time described the Ryder Cup as an “exhibition”, has grown into a believer. Team USA may have the 23-year-old Northern Irishman down as a marked man but there is no semblance of fear. No trepidation. And, at Medinah Country Club yesterday, the world’s number one ranked player effectively took a swipe at anyone intent on making a direct hit.
“I don’t think I have a bulls-eye on my back. I think it’s a huge compliment that people are saying they want to beat me and whatever. Whoever wants to take me on, they can take me on,” said McIlroy, confirming a shift – in both mindset and status – since he walked onto the tee with a degree of disquiet for a debut appearance at Celtic Manor two years ago.
Much has changed since then. He really gets the Ryder Cup. “It opened my eyes,” he admitted.
In recalling his trepidation in Wales, McIlroy admitted: “I was nervous. I was a rookie . . . I was very anxious, very tentative. I was trying not to make a mistake instead of going out and free-wheeling it and playing the way I usually do. I think it’s going to be different this year. I’m going to go out and just give it a go, enjoy it, play the way I play. I definitely have more confidence in myself as a player than I did two years ago. I’m more certain of myself, (more) sure of my ability.”
Now, McIlroy – a four-time winner on the US Tour this season, including a second career Major when claiming the US PGA championship – is comfortable enough to talk of himself as an on-course leader, if still preferring to take his place on the quiet chair in the team-room and let other, older, players assume that part of the leadership duties.
The question of leadership, though, is – almost – embraced. “I think there’s leaders on our team that will lead with experience. I don’t think my role is a leader in the team room. I think it’s more a leader out on the course and trying to lead the way, (to) try to put points on the board.”
He knows his place, as part of a team. Not as an individual. “This week I’m not the number one player in the world. I’m one person in a 12-man team, and that’s it. It’s a team effort. There’s 12 guys all striving towards the same goal. I’m just part of that,” he acknowledged.