When Paddy met Monty: Rory, Royal St George's and ruination on the range

With the Open looming, two of the sport's elder statesmen discuss their very different attitudes to practice, the new kid on the tee and Tiger. James Corrigan fires the questions
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The Independent Online

Is Royal St George's the place to be next week, particularly with Rory McIlroy in attendance?

Padraig Harrington: Who knows where Rory will end up? We tend to make these judgements that somebody is naturally going to follow this progression.

But it is possible that Rory could go on to be one of the greatest golfers ever. And for people to see him at the start of that, at 22 years of age. Well, they can talk about that for the rest of their lives. "I saw him when he was young, when he was fearless, young and fresh. Wow, you should have seen him hit it." The old codgers always say: "I saw Ben Hogan play." This is the opportunity to say: "I saw Rory play."

He's had three weeks off since winning the US Open. Ideal build-up?

Colin Montgomerie: I've said I would like to have seen a competitive tournament in between the two majors. To get it out the system, to get it out the way, so he could start the Open fresh.

PH: He's obviously different in that he didn't do much before the US Open. With Rory, he's very natural and it's not all about the golf. He has it in a good place. The one issue that will come about is that there'll be 155 players and 155 caddies wanting to say "well done" and everybody will want to talk to him.

CM: Exactly. It's bloody tiring shaking all those hands and having all those chats. When he stands on the first tee on Wednesday I think he will be mentally tired. He's such a natural player I don't fear any rust in his game. It's just the mental side of the game in coming from major to major.

PH: He's the sort of player you were, Monty. His game's low maintenance. If he putts well he wins, if he doesn't he doesn't. The actual tee to green thing, there's not much stress in it. He's more or less the same all the time.

CM: If it was a normal event it would not matter as the outcome is less important. The expectation is different at a major. He's favourite. But that hasn't been seen in the locker-room sense, because they know he has to do all the other stuff. Favourite at hitting a golf ball yes, but can he get the mental side out of the way? That's to be seen.

Will he do well simply to contend?

CM: I think the course at Congressional suited him. Out of the 14 drives, 11 went right to left. That suited him. The fact it was soft suited him. The way the greens were suited him. I would say there were 15 potential winners at Congressional, but 40 at Sandwich. The course is dry, quite bouncy, it brings in others. A là Tom Watson. If I was playing I'd have a chance because suddenly the ball is bouncing 300 yards. I'm not saying Rory will do well to contend, I think he will contend, but you've always got to be slightly fortunate to win a major.

PH: You're probably not lucky when you're winning the US Open by eight.

CM: Yeah, fair enough. There was no luck involved. But at the Open there's the draw as well. Look at last year.

PH: Louis [Oosthuizen] won by seven but actually got pushed by Paul Casey. He got a break at nine when he pushed his tee shot and it finished a yard from the bunker and ran up to the green and he holed it for two. Another day that goes in the bunker. He chops it out. He's angry, takes five. It lifts Casey. Believe me last year was a lot tighter than seven shots.

Padraig, you said he could be the one to challenge Jack Nicklaus and when Rory heard that he put his head in his hands and said 'Paddy, Paddy, Paddy'. Do you regret saying that?

PH: I didn't see it, but I heard about it. It was a bit unfortunate. I didn't want to put any more pressure on him. He didn't need that. But he's 22, if he plays until he's 47 he has 25 years. That's 100 majors. And he has the ability to lap the field. Look, I can go win a major, but I ain't lapping the field. I win it by outlasting somebody down the stretch. I'm not taking on the field, grabbing an eight-shot lead and waving to the crowd going down the last. That's the difference. He has that ability. So over 100 majors you can put him in that category.

CM: Is he going to compete at 47 years old? There's only one player who has ever got better in his forties and that's Vijay Singh. It's about sustaining it. So he hasn't got 100 majors. I think he's got about 60 but out of that 60 he will be contending a lot.

PH: The greatest player in the history of the game you could argue is Tiger Woods. And he's got 14 majors after 14 years. It's amazing: even a guy who has dominated like he has only won one a year. To win 18 majors is a time issue more than anything else, and that's the point about Rory: he has the time. I won when I was 36. No matter how good I got, time was always against me.

On that point, is Tiger Woods going to beat Jack's record 18 majors?

CM: He's got to have Seve's career to do it. And Seve's career wasn't bad.

PH: Jack made that point and it was interesting. Listen, I think he's going to do it. But he's got to have a full career in front of him.

CM: Bloody hell, it's game on. To think, just a few years ago it was a given.

PH: It does show our naivety. When we make these forecasts we don't see the risks around the corner of all these injuries, of all the other stuff.

CM: Or of the quality coming through. It's got so much better.

PH: They're talking In Ireland about having "the best juniors we've ever had". I go, "Hang about, look what's just come through." They say, "No, now we've got really good kids." I mean... Perhaps that's the biggest issue for Rory to compete with Jack. There's going to be more people with chances of winning majors going forward.

How good is Rory?

PH: He's 22 years of age and he's dominated seven of the eight major rounds this year. What more do you need to say?

CM: He's the most talented golfer since Seve.

PH: He's more of your mould.

CM: I was never that good.

PH: Hang on a second. For a long number of years you were the best ball-striker in the world and the fact that you didn't take that to the US will always be held against you. But you were still the best ball-striker. There's no question. Rory's in that mould. Hitting the golf ball, he's awesome. Yeah, he still needs to mature and he is working on his short game. But it's hard to have a good short game if you hit that number of greens. You're living proof, Monty. You used to moan to high heaven about your putting.

CM: That's because I hit so many greens, I missed more putts than anyone. But Rory has a natural ability. Seve had it, [Ernie] Els had it. They look empty without a club in their hands. It's God-given.

What about Tiger?

CM: God-given talent? Of course, he had a frightening talent. But he worked at it an awful lot more than Seve, Ernie or Rory has. The swing coaches, the fitness angle, all the stuff Tiger did. It was born out of bloody hard work. Mentally, he's the toughest we've ever had. You don't birdie the last as Tiger has to win as often as he did without being mentally strong. And this is what Rory has to find out and learn. I'll be interested to see how Rory copes on Thursday.

PH: This is what will decide how many majors Rory will win. How he keeps his life in balance, how much he loves the attention and how much he deals with it and how much he will accept it. Greg Norman made the comment that from now Rory must never read another thing written about him. He can't get involved in the hype. Ever. That takes a lot of discipline. I haven't spoken to him, but that's the conversation I'd have. He's got to understand that the media has to be a one-way medium from now on. He gives, but never takes anything away from it.

CM: We're all armchair critics. We all have our views about Rory not playing before the Open and how he will play. His will be the one score we're looking for. It was always Tiger before. It would be, "What did he score, where is he on the leaderboard?" Now it will be Rory. Especially on Thursday.

PH: It's funny. If Tiger had played at Sandwich we would have looked for his score even more so. I never look at anyone else's score, apart from my own. But I always know how Tiger's done because some idiot always tells you. Rory will be that one they're telling you about at Sandwich.

CM: You're unique in not wanting to know the scores, not wanting to know the stats.

PH: What, you want some guy coming up and telling you to hit every fairway?

CM: I'd know that. Wouldn't you?

PH: I wouldn't want to. Because I'd try to do it the next day.

What's it like trying to keep up with the young guys?

CM: I'm trying to perform against players who are 100 per cent focused on golf. I was playing with Alexander Noren and I watched a video of his workout routine on my iPad. Blimey! I've got other priorities. Seven children and a wife to look after for a start. So I'm relying on 65 per cent to compete against people younger, fitter, hungrier and it's difficult.

PH: Workout? You, Monty? Have I got that right?

CM: I just wanted to see what he did in the gym and it's incredible. He's 100 per cent golf. You can't be that any more, Padraig? There's obviously more in your life now than there was in 2005.

PH: I would still believe I would be guilty of overdoing my golf. I still do too much. I don't believe 100 per cent of your life should be golf. If players are going to the gym and playing golf and that's it, they won't last more than a couple of years before they go off the rails. They'll burn out very quickly. They'll end up like David Duval, winning the Open Championship in 2001 and saying, "Is that it?"

CM: So you have to work consciously to stop that from happening?

PH: Absolutely. I'd always want to practise. See, you never practised, Monty. That's why you should be able to go longer than anybody else. Your body is only 10 years old golf-wise, because that's all it's done. I abused myself early in my career. My first year in Malaysia I finished my morning round and then spent four hours on the range hitting driver off the deck. The other players were in the swimming pool, watching me, saying, "Who is that idiot?" It was sweltering. I closed every range on the Tour every day for a few years. I got injuries because of it.

CM: A lot of people have done that.

PH: I would use you, Colin, as the player we could most learn from. If you look at my run of 29 second places, those were caused by over-practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. I would then practise Thursday after my round, Friday after my round, even Saturday, when I was leading. Monty, you won more tournaments because you were fresh on a Sunday. I lost more tournaments because I was worn out by Sunday.

CM: It's good you can admit that now.

PH: I can now see that some people can't leave it alone. I've got that obsessive nature. But to win tournaments, you've got to have that balance.

CM: How did you stop this obsession?

PH: It's still going on. Every day I have to keep an eye on it. I have rules that I stick to. Particularly at majors. I know how to win and I'm there to win. I played my first 10 years on Tour and at every tournament, even the ones I was leading at on a Saturday going into the Sunday, I was getting ready for the following week, getting ready for something for the future. Imagine that?

CM: I can't.

What will you be thinking about this weekend at the Barclays Scottish Open?

PH: Definitely St George's.

CM: You've won three majors so nobody is going to say your build-up will be wrong. I'm going to the Scottish Open to try to win it. Yes, I'm not in the Open and need to finish at least top five at Castle Stuart if I want to extend my Open run to 22. But my primary objective will be to do well in the Scottish Open. Maybe that was my problem with the Open. I'd always give so much at the Scottish and at the Irish Opens in the two weeks leading up to it. When I was European No 1 I would invariably win one of them. And winning takes a lot out of you.

PH: The best way to prepare for a major is to finish top 10, shoot a nice score on Sunday and feel "I'm ready". Leading a tournament for three or four days wears you out. It's best to have a stress-free week.

CM: A stress-free week. What a lovely thought. What we'd all give for one of those.

Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington spoke to 'The Independent' at the launch of HSBC Ultimate Open 18, their composite course of all the Open venues.