Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Rory McIlroy misses Scottish Open to prepare at St Andrews

A coachload of American tourists pulled in by the side of the bonnie banks. Lucas Glover was in his trackie and looking puzzled. Fred Funk was sniffing the air and waiting in line to check in. John Daly wandered about in his jeans and Razorbacks cap and slipped a cigarette out of the packet.
They looked most interested in finding a McDonald’s, but then someone told them a golf tournament was about to break out.
The Scottish Open at Loch Lomond has always felt a bit like a waiting room for the real thing. It is a top tournament over a great golf course, but Phil Mickelson and nine other Americans would not be here unless they were getting ready to play the Open next week. The players’ lounge was piled high with luggage, most of which seemed to belong to Daly. Maybe he has a concession at St Andrews next week.
But while the Americans were dominating the immediate landscape, the conversation was strangely dominated by someone who is not even here. No, I don’t mean Tiger Woods, but the mop-haired one from Holywood – Rory McIlroy (pictured above).
Graeme McDowell, the winner of last month’s US Open, sounded convinced that McIlroy would be right up there at St Andrews. He said: “The reaction to me winning spurs guys on. Take Rory as an example, I’ve never seen a guy so excited about next week.
“I played with him the weekend after I won at Pebble [Beach], at Royal County Down, and he told me he pulled out of this week. I inspired him and he wanted to get ready for St Andrews. He wanted to get ready for next week and now believes he can win majors. Quickly.”
McDowell and Colin Montgomerie both traced the start of it all back to Padraig Harrington. When the Irishman began to win majors, the other top European players really began to believe in the possibilities.
McDowell said: “There are guys running around here who think they are more talented than Padraig as far as ball-striking and tee-to-green go. It goes to show what a strong mind and short game can achieve.”
Montgomerie said: “I think Padraig started this European roll running. The Europeans have decided if he can do it, I can do it. I’ve never seen people practise so hard physically, mentally, on every aspect of their games.”
But if it all comes down to Harrington, then why are so many Open aspirants munching round Loch Lomond over the next four days? Lovely scenery, but Harrington gets ready by playing links golf just as Woods always did before he had issues over access to his children.
As Woods’s jet was halfway across the Atlantic on its way back to Florida, he may well have passed Mickelson coming in the opposite direction. The ‘Philharmonic’ has sponsorship issues so he always plays at Loch Lomond, but he sounded unusually cheerful about his chances at next week’s Open. Maybe he figures that as Woods heads one way, he heads the other.
Mickelson said: “I think I should be able to contend. I’ve had my most consistent success at St Andrews and it’s where I’ve been up on the leaderboard at some point all three times during the week. I feel it’s a very playable golf course.
“I feel like you don’t have to strike it perfectly. I feel like you have enough room off the tee and options on every hole. One of the things that gives a player a great advantage, and I’ve seen it in the three Opens I’ve played – Tiger has won two and John Daly the third – is that length is a factor.
“One of the things I’ve been working on in my preparation for St Andrews is trying to swing the club head faster because I feel like the driver is going to be a key club there. I will be swinging much harder at the ball than I normally would. I look at the young guys today – McIlroy, [Ryo] Ishikawa, Rickie Fowler hits the ball hard. I think these guys have so much club head speed that it’s a necessity now.”
When Mickelson was asked if he had always dreamed of winning in Scotland, he immediately started talking about the Open. There was no mention of Loch Lomond or the Scottish Open. But then, judging from the performance of past Scottish Open winners such as McDowell and Gregory Havret, Loch Lomond is rather better preparation for the US Open than St Andrews.



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