Paul McGinley reconsiders pairing Rory McIlroy with Graeme McDowell

Europe’s captain ponders best use of Irish duo as he prepares for Ryder Cup battle

Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley admits that his team are the slight favourites but Tom Watson wants to redeem the United States' shock defeat in the previous Ryder Cup in 2012. Video: Reuters

 

Nothing is set in stone, not even the partnership of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

As rival captains Paul McGinley and Tom Watson shared handshakes and smiles at Gleneagles yesterday where the two teams checked into their hotel base for the week ahead, Europe’s leader staged what seemed to be an orderly retreat on previous assertions that the two Irishmen would definitely line up alongside each other.

Less than a week ago, McGinley had observed: “I’ll be very surprised if they don’t play together.” Yesterday, he deviated from that. In explaining that the ongoing court case involving McIlroy and Horizon Sports Management – and to which McDowell has been dragged into as part of the discovery process – was “not an issue” in terms of the Ryder Cup, McGinley said he was considering a tactical manoeuvre which could yet involve splitting them up.

He expanded: “Both of them have assured me all along that there’s no issues (over the court case) and that’s the way I have always seen it. Whether they come (to play) together or not is another story. Three or four months ago, I had a very strong view that they would, but the more I look at their statistics, and the more I look at the different value I have with them, I’m thinking there may be a value in not doing it (pairing them together).”

McGinley – who first put McIlroy and McDowell together as a formidable partnership in his times as Seve Trophy captain – appears to have backtracked in recent days, having analysed more closely the evidence of their previous pairings in the Ryder Cup itself. The two have played six times – but won only two-and-a-half points.

As McGinley put it: “It’s not like these guys are written in stone. They are not a formidable foursomes, not a formidable fourball pairing that’s unbeatable . . . I’ve got lots of options with them but it doesn’t have to be that they have to be together.”

Finally won

Past results definitely back up McGinley’s point. In the 2010 match at Celtic Manor, the two Macs halved the opening fourball with Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, lost the first afternoon’s foursomes to the same USA pairing, and then finally won the second day’s foursomes over Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan.

 

Then, in the 2012 match at Medinah, the McIlroy-McDowell pairing beat Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker in foursomes but then lost out to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in fourballs and again to Furyk and Snedeker in the second day’s foursomes.

Thereafter, the partnership was split up with McIlroy paired alongside Ian Poulter for fourballs which brought success over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson which was widely acknowledged in the aftermath of Medinah as the match which was the catalyst for Europe’s revival in the following day’s singles.

Could it be that the McIlroy-Poulter option is more viable? Or that McIlroy’s ever stronger friendship with Sergio Garcia could make for an Irish-Spanish alliance? Or may be McDowell is viewed as a leader, someone who could play alongside one of the rookies?

Only time will tell, with three practice days play before a shot is struck in anger come Friday morning’s opening session of fourballs.

Both parties

If the decision is made to separate McIroy and McDowell for foursomes or fourballs, McGinley is insistent it would have nothing to do with proceedings in Dublin’s High Court in which a judge has urged both parties – McIlroy and Horizon – to seek mediation.

McGinley’s European team arrived in dribs and drabs over the past two days. McIlroy was one of those to get to base on Sunday, where he picked up a golf club for the first time in a week following his FedEx Cup exertions. McDowell, who spent a couple of days at home in Northern Ireland, was the last to get to the hotel late yesterday afternoon.

McIlroy worked with his coach Michael Bannon on Sunday afternoon and again yesterday morning. “He’s fresh, he’s ready,” said McGinley, of the player Watson has targeted.

“Whenever you beat the stud on the opposing team, that gives your team a boost, no question,” said Watson of setting the world number one McIlroy in his team’s sights.

Watson’s team arrived on the same plane, with Rickie Fowler’s new hair cut – the letters USA shaved into his head – demonstrating their unity. “I made it very clear to them that this trip is a redemption trip (for the defeat at Medinah in 2012). Those players that played on the team, it’s time to make amends and try to redeem . . . ”

McGinley provided a little insight into some of his own inspirational thinking when revealing that words often spoken by Bob Torrance – the father of vice-captain Sam – were the last words his players would see each time they left the team room. “(Bob) used to say it to every player, he would shake your hand and say, ‘happiest days of your lives’.”

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