McIlroy can handle the US 'get Rory' strategy, says Graeme McDowell
Have Americans made error in forgetting about Europe's Ryder Cup team spirit?
The militarisation of the Ryder Cup has begun with Paul Azinger's "get Rory" campaign. Azinger, who captained the United States to victory at Valhalla four years ago, believes the subjugation of McIlroy is central to American success at Medinah for the morale boost it would provide. You will remember how Azinger based his Ryder Cup strategy on the team-building techniques adopted by the Navy Seals, the special forces unit that assassinated Osama bin Laden.
What Europe thought was sport between two teams of golfers, Azinger turned into a three-day field battle in which his "pods", groups of players within the 12, organised according to personality type, character etc, were turned into guerrilla hit squads. Azinger needn't have bothered. Europe's captain, Sir Nick Faldo, outflanked himself with a series of bizarre moves, including the madcap decision to abandon the idea of vice-captains and to rest Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia on Saturday morning.
Azinger might be overdoing the importance of McIlroy to the European team, and in thinking that way losing sight of the core strength of Europe that he went to such lengths to beat. It is precisely because Europe are a team that they have managed to win one more match than America since emerging from Great Britain and Ireland, arguably against superior individuals. Good as the world No 1 is, Jose-Maria Olazabal's team will succeed or fail as a result of the contribution of the whole.
No one understands McIlroy or the team concept better than his Northern Irish compatriot Graeme McDowell, who accepted with good grace the role of mentor handed him by captain Colin Montgomerie at Celtic Manor in 2010. After "holding McIlroy's hand" on debut in the early pairings, McDowell emerged as the hero in the singles, sinking what turned out to be the decisive putt on the 16th green.
Two years on McIlroy has won two major championships and lost another. He arrived at East Lake for the final of the FedEx Cup having already won back-to-back play-off events. Even if America were to take Azinger's advice, it would not, according to McDowell, bother McIlroy one bit. "Having a Rory McIlroy on your team is a massive plus. Last time he was a rookie and perhaps we were wrapping him in cotton wool. This time it's a matter of putting him in top gear and sending him out there.
"I'm hoping to play a few games with Rory. I think there are 10 other guys on the team who would love to play with him. He is such a great player, he would be a fairly handy partner for anybody, let's be honest. Yes, he has a big cross on his back. There is no doubt that guys will want to take his scalp and take a point off him. Tiger [Woods] always had that aura at the Ryder Cup. Guys would love to play him to win a point off him.
"Rory comes into this Ryder Cup as one of our leaders, as our best player. You have to put more responsibility on his shoulders but he is the type of guy who can handle that pressure. He has stepped up to the plate this last couple of months and I fully expect him to be on form next week."
McDowell was a subdued presence when the singles playing order was read out by Monty in Wales. His was the last name to come out. Since Europe were sitting on a sizeable lead McDowell felt he would miss the party in a meaningless singles match against Hunter Mahan, with the Ryder Cup already won. How wrong that turned out to be. He won't make that mistake again.
"At Valhalla it was all over before I had the chance to beat Stewart Cink. I thought the same was going to happen at Celtic Manor, the Europeans would be out there celebrating while I was at the back of the field trying to do my job. Little did I know it would play out in my favour. It was a pretty scary prospect, having your team-mates shouting you down the last couple of holes. But it was the highlight of my career, emotionally anyway, holing that putt on 16 and being able to finish that match off. It was such a special feeling to share that success with the team.
"It will be interesting come Sunday to see what happens. Would I be happy to be No 12, to be that guy that gets the job done? Yes, I would. That said, I will play anywhere, do what's necessary to win the Ryder Cup."
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