Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As Rory McIlroy prepares for the US Open, we ask writers Matt Blake and Stuart Hood if the Northern Irishman can reclaim the top spot in golf’s world rankings.
YES! He’ll be back on top
“He’s back on his feet and on a quest to return to World No 1” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
He’s only 27
Rory’s got one ingredient to his game that no amount of backswing can deliver: youth. At 27, the Northern Irishman is still five years younger than the average major winner… and he’s already won four. Consider this, too: four of the last five winners of the Open Championship were 39 or over. The only one who wasn’t was Rory. Golfers, like wine or Liam Neeson, improve with age. Young Rory’s got plenty of time to get back to the top.
His putting is back on course
Putting has been the bane of the game for Rory this year – never more so than in February, when he missed three putts from inside five feet in the first round of the Honda Classic. But since then he’s changed his grip, and his green play has improved. Nobody in the sport has a better long game than Rory. Since such fairway heroics won him the Irish Open last month, the US Open’s got his name all over it.
He only lost the top spot because he got injured
I’ve come up with a scientific theory in the last five minutes, which I’m calling the Footbolf Paradox. It states that professional footballers have the innate capacity to become quite good at golf in their spare time (they never shut up about it), whereas top golfers make terrible jumpers-for-goalposts footballers. Nobody proves this better than Rory, who ruptured his ankle in a freak kickabout accident last year, leaving him crocked for seven weeks. It’s no coincidence that he lost the number one spot straight after that. But now he’s fit again, it’s no surprise he’s returned to his winning ways.
He can win on any course
It’s an immutable fact that Rory has won titles on all types of course. He’s won on an Open Championship links course, the tough, tight parkland of the US Open and has a cabinet full of trophies from the more open courses that lend themselves to really low scoring. In other words, he is the complete golfer. Jordan Spieth, on the other hand, has never won the US PGA. And Jason Day’s yet to prove his minerals at the Open Championship. With such proven versatility, you can’t discount Rory from any event.
It’s been a busy couple of years for Rory off the golf course: a long-running lawsuit with his old management company; that football injury; and the break-up with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki. It must’ve all conspired to put him off his stride. But that’s history now – he’s settled the suit, is back on his feet and is engaged to someone new, who he says is actually aiding his quest to return to World No 1. Just as Simba took back Pride Rock after Timon and Pumbaa taught him to have no worries, Rory’s newfound happiness has set him on course to rule again. Hakuna matata.
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NO! It’s not going to happen
“When the going gets tough, Rory gets going down the leaderboard” – Stuart Hood, sports writer, Virgin Media
He’s been usurped by his rivals
You know that thing about giving people an inch and them taking a mile? Well, it sums up Rory’s last 12 months. Exactly a year ago, he was World No 1. Then he ruptured his ankle ligaments while playing footy with his mates. With Rory on the sidelines, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day have seized their opportunity. Current World No 2, Spieth, has won four times since Rory knackered his foot, while current World No 1, Day, has claimed seven trophies since last August. “I’m clinging on at the minute,” admits Rory, who’s had just two wins since his trip to A&E.
There’s no “I” in World No 1
Classic kids’ TV show Record Breakers lied to us. In golf, if you want to be the best and if you want to beat the rest, it’s not dedication that you need, but a team you love and trust. Jason Day, who heaped praise on his caddie, swing coach and mentor Col Swatton after winning last year’s US PGA, has this. And so does Jordan Spieth, who constantly uses the word “we” when discussing his performance on the course. But Rory McIlroy? Not so much. In fact, the first thing his putting consultant knew about a recent grip change was when he saw it on telly.
Talking of Rory’s putting…
It’s much, much better than yours or mine. But it’s also much, much worse than his rivals. According to the latest statistics, Rory is the 65th best putter on the PGA Tour. In contrast, Jason Day sits top of the putting tree and Jordan Spieth lies seventh.
He’s a flat-track bully
There is no denying that Rory’s 19 professional strokeplay wins are an incredible achievement, especially given the fact he’s just turned 27. But if you look a bit closer at these victories, you’ll discover that all of them have been achieved with a score of -12 or better. This sets alarm bells ringing for a couple of reasons. First, it suggests that he only knows one way to play. Second, it suggests that when the going gets tough, Rory gets going down the leaderboard.
He’s voting to remain
From calling off his engagement to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki after the wedding invites had been sent out, to sacking the agent who brokered his $200m deal with Nike, Rory has made some big decisions in the past. And if he really wants to get back to World No 1, he needs to make another one – by voting to leave Europe. No, I’m not talking Brexit. I’m referring to the fact that Rory currently plays both the European Tour and the PGA Tours, whereas Day and Spieth only play the latter. This means they travel less and rest more. This boosts their chances of peaking for the game’s biggest events. And it means they’re going to keep blocking Rory’s path to the top spot.
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