McIlroy says criticism is just part of the deal
Shakespeare’s Henry IV wasn’t a fan of the huge responsibility that comes with high office but Rory McIlroy appears to be thoroughly at ease as world’s number one-ranked golfer.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”? Not McIlroy, who has impressed even Tiger Woods with the way he has handled the pressure and the scrutiny that comes with the role since he ascended to the throne by winning the Honda Classic 12 months ago.
Woods closed with a career-low final round of 62 to put McIlroy under pressure as he came down the stretch. But the then 22-year old responded. McIlroy, who was just two strokes clear of clubhouse leader Woods with five holes to play, closed with five seemingly nerveless pars to become world number one for the first time.
The youngster had to come through PGA National’s dreaded Bear Trap – the attritional stretch from the 15th to the 17th – to achieve his boyhood dream.
As he stood on the 15th tee, his occasional mentor, Jack Nicklaus, summed up the situation perfectly, telling the TV audience: “When you have got to play these holes and 18 to be number one, well, the number one should be able to do that.”
McIlroy had to get up and down for his par on each of the three holes before closing out a memorable victory in front of thousands of new admirers and his parents Rosie and Gerry.
No one said it was going to be easy and last year’s mid-season struggles, which led to him conceding the top ranking to Luke Donald not once but twice, were quickly forgotten when he won the US PGA in record fashion and then triumphed another three times to claim Player-of-the-Year honours on both sides of the Atlantic.
When he won his second Major at Kiawah Island, the young Ulsterman was delighted to ram the criticism he’d received down a few throats and “prove a few people wrong”.
Fast forward seven months and McIlroy’s game is once again under the microscope. He’s only played three competitive rounds of golf since signing a new club endorsement deal with Nike in January. Yet a missed cut and a less than impressive performance in losing to Shane Lowry in the first round of last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play has the critics sharpening their pencils once more.
One would expect McIlroy to be positively bristling at this stage. But there is no real sense of tension about the youngster this time. Indeed, he positively wowed onlookers in Palm Beach Gardens on Tuesday night when he attended a function.
As Woods said yesterday: “I think Rory is doing a fantastic job of dealing with it all. I got to number one very quickly. I turned pro in August and I think by Augusta, somewhere in there, I became number one.