Rory McIlroy still hopes to meet Tiger ‘down the stretch in a major’; talks Ryder Cup, Andy Murray

Ahead of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Rory McIlroy covered a range of subjects with reporters, including his enduring hope to go toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods at a major.
Rory McIlroy shown on Wednesday at the pro-am ahead of the 2016 Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images / February 3, 2016
Rory McIlroy shown on Wednesday at the pro-am ahead of the 2016 Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images / February 3, 2016

DUBAI // Rory McIlroy expects the American Ryder Cup team to pose a serious threat at Hazeltine later this year, as they seek to arrest a run of three consecutive defeats to Europe.

The world No 2, defending champion at this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, should form a key component of Darren Clarke’s European side in the September 30 to October 2 event.

McIlroy, 26, has been a regular contributor in the biennial contest with the United States since making his debut at Celtic Manor in 2010, winning six and halving four of his 14 matches. In three appearances, he has never finished on the losing team.

In contrast, the Americans have tasted defeat in eight of the past 10 overall meetings. They will therefore head into Hazeltine intent on wresting the trophy back from their European counterparts, with Davis Love III reprising his 2012 position as captain and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson tipped for assistant roles should they not qualify to play.

In Abu Dhabi last month, world No 1 Jordan Spieth and No 4 Rickie Fowler said regaining the Ryder Cup represented a priority for 2016. The duo is expected to lead a youthful American side high on motivation.

Also see: Dates, ticket info and more – Your guide to the 2016 Omega Dubai Desert Classic

McIlroy, who helped Europe to a 16.5-11.5 victory last time out at Gleneagles in 2014, does not disagree.

“They are a young, hungry team for a reason,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys on that team that haven’t tasted success at the Ryder Cup. This is going to be hopefully my fourth Ryder Cup, and going for my fourth win in a row, I’m going to be trying to be part of a team that’s won for the last four times.

“They are motivated, they are hungry and I’m sure they don’t want to lose again. And you’ve got a lot of younger players who will make the team: the likes of Rickie, Jordan, Patrick Reed, a few of the younger guys over there that really want to make the team.

“And especially if they have a backroom team like they look like they are going to have with Davis being the captain and, say, Tiger as a vice captain, Phil as a vice captain if they don’t make the team. They have got everything there possible to win it back. Then it’s up to us and up to all the people in Europe to try and prevent that.”

If the Ryder Cup represents a clear team target this year for McIlroy, then winning the Masters in April, and thus completing the career grand slam, forms an obvious individual goal.

Lee Trevino, the six-time major champion and considered one of golf’s greatest players, recently said he anticipates McIlroy will achieve the career grand slam more than once in his career.

However, McIlroy said that, while he enjoys being part of the Masters conversation, Trevino’s prediction will not alter his mindset ahead of Augusta.

“Again, it’s just words,” said McIlroy, who has twice won the US PGA Championship, once the British Open and once the US Open. “It’s just someone giving their opinion. But the difference between someone saying that and me actually going out and doing it are two entirely different things.

“Yeah, I’d like to think by the end of my career, I’ll hopefully have won each major more than once – I don’t know if I’m going to do it, but I hope I do. Trevino seems to think that I will, so maybe I need to go talk to him.

“Of course I hope so, but I don’t think it takes any pressure off going into Augusta. Of course I want to win there one day, but I’ve got hopefully 20-plus years of giving it a go and hopefully by that 28th year, I’m not going for my first green jacket. Hopefully I’m going for my third or fourth.”

McIlroy was also asked on Wednesday about the difficult task facing Andy Murray in what is fast becoming tennis’ ‘Novak Djokovic era’. Murray, a double grand slam winner, lost to the Serb in straight sets in Sunday’s Australian Open final.

“You’re not going to find a more driven, more dedicated professional athlete in the world than Andy Murray,” McIlroy said. “He does absolute everything in his power to get the most out of his game. He’s Wimbledon champion, US Open champion, Olympic champion. He’s one of the best British sports people ever in my opinion.

“But he’s been unlucky. He’s come up in an era with Roger [Federer] to start, Rafa [Nadal] and now Novak, and Novak looks like he could potentially be better than all of them. He could win more grand slams than Roger and could ultimately be the best ever.

“So just to compete with that and come up against that the whole time, it must be tough, but at the same time he’s the second best in the world at what he does, and he’s already proven he can win at the highest level. I’m sure he’ll continue to. But it must be tough mentally.”

McIlroy’s emergence in golf largely coincided with Woods’ slip from its summit, with the 14-time major winner last landing one of the game’s four elite titles in 2008. Previous to that, Woods was the game’s undisputed No 1, and dominated the sport in a manner never see before.

The American, 40, is currently recovering from a third back surgery in 19 months. He has set no date for a return.

Asked if he was glad he did not have to go up against Woods at his peak, McIlroy said: “I would have liked to. I feel like the competition brings the best out of me. And I think Phil has even said that maybe if he didn’t go up against Tiger in his prime, he would have won more majors, but he always said that Tiger brought out the best in him.

“I would have loved to; I would still. Hopefully if he can get healthy, I would still love to have a crack at him down the stretch in a major. I would love that, just once. At this point it’s just up to him to get healthy and get his game back, and for me to hopefully keep playing the way I’m playing and maybe one day.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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Published: February 3, 2016 04:00 AM

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