Rory McIlroy keen to build momentum
Former world number one and Graeme McDowell set for limited-field World Challenge in California
The potential to stockpile some end-of-season loot knows no bounds for golf’s elite, with two limited-field events – the World Challenge in California and the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa – this week offering wheelbarrows full of greenbacks.
Yet, Rory McIlroy – one of two Irishmen, along with Graeme McDowell, in the 18-man field at the Tiger Woods-hosted World Challenge – will seek to use the event to maintain the momentum brought about by his Australian Open success with a view to bringing momentum on into next year and another tilt at the Masters.
After out-duelling current Masters champion Adam Scott to claim the Australian Open on Sunday, his first tournament win of the year, McIlroy quipped, “I’m just hoping this winning trend continues and Adam can fit me with the green jacket next April.”
His win also brought some relieve to player and his equipment manufacturer Nike, given it was McIlroy’s first victory since the megabucks sponsorship deal was signed earlier this year. Indeed, Nike made hay while the sun shone in highlighting the fact the Northern Irishman had a “full bag of 14 Nike clubs.”
Having struggled with his game for much of the season, McIlroy pointing out glitches with his swing rather than pointing the finger at the equipment, it was interesting to note nevertheless the player benefited from two recent equipment changes en route to his win in Royal Sydney: he had the new Nike VTS Covert 2.0 driver in his bag along with used the new Nike RZN Black ball.
In a statement released by Nike yesterday, it claimed that, the “combination of Nike’s Fly-Brace technology” in the driver and the “Speedlock technology” in the ball had “seen an increase in his ball speed. This is the result of the forgiving distance of his driver and greater stability in the wind with the ball, giving him the confidence to launch it into another gear off the tee.”
Such hyperbole is probably allowed for now, given the huge sponsorship multi-year deal – reputed to be $200 million – Nike have expended on McIlroy. “There was a lot of criticism at the start of the year when I switched to Nike, so my message now to those people who still want to criticise me is that this win should silence any further (criticism),” said McIlroy, adding: “I’ve said all along its about building back the confidence and I’ve been gradually achieving that.”
His appearance in the World Challenge, which will be staged for the last time at Sherwood Country Club before its move to Isleworth, Florida, marks McIlroy’s final outing of the season.
McDowell, who had a week off after playing in the World Cup in Melbourne, defends the title he won last year. The Ulsterman has fond memories of Sherwood, having benefited from a late invite in 2009 when he went on to finish runner-up but earn sufficient world ranking points to move him into the world’s top 50. In 2010, he returned to beat Woods in a play-off and last year he claimed the title for a second time.
Elsewhere, in-form Henrik Stenson is the headline act in the Nedbank Challene in Sun City where the European number one will kick-start his defence of the European Order of Merit.
Meanwhile, McDowell has confirmed he will play on Team Europe in next year’s inaugural EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur which will be captained by Miguel Angel Jimenez. McDowell is one of four players to automatically qualify for the team in the first phases of qualifying (along with Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson and Gonzalo Fernandez Castano). The new event will be held in Malaysia in the run-up to next year’s Masters at Augusta. “I think it has a lot of potential to become a very big event,” commented McDowell.
The 2014 European Tour season – which started in South Africa the past two weeks – continues this week with the Hong Kong Open in Fanling where Peter Lawrie, Kevin Phelan and David Higgins are competing.