Ryder Cup: Rory McIlroy could play in all five sessions, says Europe Captain Paul McGinley

McGinley says McIlroy can handle the pressure of being leader

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The Independent Online

The first item on the captain’s agenda when Paul McGinley arrives at Gleneagles today reads: Rory McIlroy. McGinley understands, as does his American counterpart, Tom Watson, the symbolic importance of McIlroy as both talisman and target.

A European team marching behind this champion in the field and indubitably the world’s best golfer  would make them almost impossible to beat. Bring him down and the underdog starts to bite. McGinley has deliberately left McIlroy to his thoughts since finalising his team a fortnight ago at Wentworth. Indeed, McGinley has kept his own diary clean in order to clear his head.

Ideally McGinley would want to roll out McIlroy in all five sessions. But this is not tournament golf where a player has only his own shoes to tie. At 25, McIlroy is the youngest member of the European team, yet he is being asked to shoulder the leadership mantle.


He put his hand up for the role after claiming his fourth major at Valhalla last month, saying in interviews he was ready to assume responsibilities commensurate with his standing in the game.

Six weeks on, McGinley wants to hear that for himself: “Will anyone play five? That’s a big question,” he said. “Only one player, Larry Nelson, has won five out of five and that’s way back when. The big players, the guys that you would think are capable of playing five, have played a lot of golf lately.

“Obviously Rory is the first name that comes to mind but the big question is where is he going to be with tiredness? I don’t have a hard and fast rule. I have a skeleton plan, but I have to be flexible.

“There is a good chance Rory will play five. I know how fit he is and how mentally agile. You saw him in the last round last week [at the Tour Championship]. He dropped all those shots mid-round. You are thinking ‘oh my god, Rory’s lost it now. He is going to glide to fourth or fifth place’. Then all of a sudden he comes back and has all those birdies and finishes second. That just shows you what you are dealing with, what makes Rory as great as he is.” 

McGinley went on: “One thing Rory has proved is that he is comfortable being favourite. He was favourite going into Valhalla and he won. Going into the last round there was a real focus on him.

“I know at the start of the week everyone was talking about Tiger [Woods] and we forgot about Rory but, as the week went on and the Tiger story died, the big story was ‘who is going to win the PGA?’ and it was quite clear there was one outstanding favourite who was at the top of the leaderboard – and he relished that and finished the job.

“He did the same at the Open Championship. He relished the fact that he was going out in the last round with a lead he had to defend.

“I haven’t quite crystalised what his role will be in the Ryder Cup. I don’t want to tax him with that yet. I need him to rest now and chat with him when we hit the ground.”

Though McIlroy was a keen sponsor of McGinley for the captain’s post – arguably the most influential voice behind the appointment, and there is plenty Irish connectivity – the two are a generation apart, leaving gaps to fill in their knowledge of each other.

“Over the past 18 months he has been brilliant with me,” McGinley said. “When we have communicated he has been so into what I’m saying. I really respect how he has treated me in my role as captain. It has been essential to get that respect and feedback from my top player.” Despite all he has achieved this year, there is a precedent for an Irish major winner being handed the lead role at the Ryder Cup. Six years ago, after winning the Open and the PGA Championship, just as McIlory has, Padraig Harrington hit the first ball at Valhalla.

It did not end well. Europe lost and Harrington began the slow, inexorable decline as a major force. That Padraig parallel, you might think, would make vice-captain Harrington an ideal foil in the team room for McIlroy at Gleneagles. Not so, according to McGinley.

“I don’t think Padraig will be giving Rory lessons,” he said. “Not that they don’t get on. They are just two different animals, two different personalities. There will be other roles for which Padraig will be great in this team and I’m looking forward to working with him.

“I know he will bring a lot to the backroom team. He has views and ideas on everything. He will come from left field, but advising Rory won’t be one of his jobs. Rory relishes being No1. Padraig always liked being the underdog. There is a different dynamic going on there.”

The players arrive tomorrow and McGinley has an outline plan of pairings.

Gleneagles looks a picture and meets with the captain’s approval - though he insists there are no ambushes awaiting the Americans.

“The course has not been tricked up. There is rough there but no thicker than for a general European tour set-up,” said McGinley.

“The course is in line with how Jack Nicklaus designed it. My set-up respects that.”