Although Rory McIlroy moved swiftly to dismiss any insinuation that the diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat, discovered in a series of medical check-ups, was of any real worry – “really not that big of a deal,” he declared – Paul McGinley, believes the greater concern to the former world number one’s career longevity is staying injury free.
McIlroy – who endured an injury-plagued season in 2017 – resumes tournament action at this week's Abu Dhabi Championship, the first of an intensive eight-event schedule that will take him up to the US Masters at Augusta National in April, the only Major he has yet to win, where he will again seek to claim the career Grand Slam.
Having taken over a winter break of almost four months from tournament play in an attempt to regain full fitness, McIlroy – who plunged from second in the world rankings down to his current position of 11th in the space of 12 months – heads into the new season with a stacked schedule as if to prove a point to one and all.
Of McIlroy’s bid to reassert himself, and the quest to claim that elusive piece of the Grand Slam puzzle, McGinley – who has reduced his own playing schedule on the seniors circuit due to his broadcasting commitments with Sky Sports and a growing business portfolio – remarked: “I know there’s been a lot of analysis going on from within his team over the last three months, and I think he has learned a lot. He is a smart guy, we know that. He is intelligent, he is bright.
“There’s a lot to be learned, but you cannot play golf if you don’t have a fit body. That’s the number one criteria nowadays. And it is interesting to see how sport is changing, not just golf, with the longevity of [sporting] careers, with the power these guys are swinging and the amount of time they spend at the gym.
"What's going to happen when they get into their 30s, like Rory is just entering now? Are they all going to start breaking down earlier than the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson? Probably, because it is a power game now and they are pounding the gym and pounding their bodies so hard from a very early age to play this modern game.
“Are there going to be effects going forward? I say yes, and I think that applies not just to Rory but to everybody else. So maintaining your body is number one, more than anything else as he enters his 30s shortly. That’s going to be his number one, staying fit, staying strong.
“He’s drifted out to 11th in the world, which is way down in terms of his talent where he should be, so he has got to make up and it is going to be great to see him going for it. He has normally been at his best when he is going for it, rather than trying to maintain something, that’s when he is at his most exhilarating.”
McGinley, too, will be an interested observer to see if McIlroy’s top-heavy start to the season will work in the player’s favour heading to Augusta. “That is going to be a major, major, major [factor] bearing in mind what I said about his physique and his body . . . it is normally a schedule a young rookie would come with, not really a seasoned player.
“He has got this view, and it will be interesting to see where he goes with this stacked-up schedule and if he sticks to it, if his body will hold up to it.”