European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington ‘selfishly’ insists he would dearly love to see Rory McIlroy playing as well as he did last week in Abu Dhabi no matter whether he’s winning or simply just being in contention.
McIlroy’s share of third last week was his ninth top-five finish in the UAE capital and soon had his game again under the golfing microscope. Long-time European Ryder Cup star, Ian Poulter came out in support of McIlroy on Tuesday following the post Abu Dhabi HSBC criticism and now on the eve of this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, his fellow Irishman was nothing but full of praise, again reinforcing the worth of having McIlroy in his team heading later this year to Whistling Straits
“A 100% certain Rory is going to be one of a few stalwarts in the team and wouldn’t we all like to play like Rory McIlroy,” said Harrington. “He’s there in contention every week. You look on and wish you could have weeks like him because you know plenty of wins are going to come.
“Rory’s been great in his career that he has had periods where he’s just not winning and this is probably a better period he’s had in not winning. The best period Rory had ever of not winning is at the moment. He’s there or there abouts all the time.
“If you looked at his career three, four, five years ago, he could have been missing a few cuts on this run. Now he’s just contending and right, he’s not getting across the line at the very end but when he does he will probably go on a run of winning six, seven or eight times a year.
“From a Ryder Cup point of view I am a little bit selfish as I am happy to see it. Rory was unbelievable at the start of last year, and I said it at that stage that I would like to rein him in a little bit and hold him back as we don’t want him to be burning himself out so that he would be fresh and ready to go come September (2020).
“So, I am actually very pleased where he is at. I would like to see him be a little bit … Rory is at his best when he’s trying to prove a little point or two and as good as he’s playing, obviously there is a little bit of pressure on him and there’s a bit of media speculation so to say, but then Rory’s at his best when he’s like that. So, bring it on. He’s in great form so keep pushing him and the best comes out.”
And Harrington was asked by this journalist if he had time to speak to McIlroy last week in Abu Dhabi.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely. To be honest, these bubble events are quite good in that sense because we’re all in the same place,” said Harrington. “We’re meeting up quite a bit and it’s been good for me to be able to meet the guys and do a bit of planning.
“The one thing we can’t do obviously is we can’t sit down and have dinners because you’ve got to stay with your buddy, so I planned with most — not most, but some of the players at this stage, looking into when I can sit down and go through what they think and what they need and what goes on in their heads as regards to Ryder Cup.
“Last week I certainly started that process with Rory, chatting away with him, and we’re going to sit down now when we’re allowed to, when we’re allowed to sit down and have more of a detailed chat. At the moment, I’m just going through stuff. Robert Karlsson is here for these couple of weeks and we’ve been doing quite a bit and obviously Luke, we do it by text. It’s getting things in position, but for sure there is a little bit of a bonus to this that we are all in the one space, in the one bubble. So I do get to see the players a bit more.”
Harrington had played the opening two rounds last week in the company of Frenchman Victor Perez, currently fifth overall on the qualifying table, along with top-ranked Scot Robert MacIntyre.This week Harrington’s alongside Austrian Mathias Schwab and Frenchman Antoine Rozner.
AND Harrington delivered the strongest verdict since taking the captaincy reins that joining his backroom team will be fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell. Harrington, so far, has named just two vice-captains in Karlsson and former World No. 1 Luke Donald with ‘GMac’ a cert to be on the flight to Wisconsin, though probably not with his golf clubs in the luggage hold.
“Graeme was excellent last time in France, so he would definitely be somebody you would have an eye on to be vice-captain,” said Harrington. “Thomas (Bjorn) had a very good backroom staff the last time. We had quite a few different personalities in that grouping. Some guys who were heavy on the stats, some guys heavy on the emotional side of it, and I think between us, we came up with nice options and balance for Thomas to make his decisions off, and Graeme was very much part of that.
“From what I saw, he makes a very good vice-captain. He does have the ear of players and the respect of players, so it’s certainly a possibility that he could be, may be, who knows.”
So, is it emotion or statistics McDowell would bring to Harrington’s team?
“I think he was quite balanced on both sides and I would have said he was more middle of the road. He had a little bit of emotion and could appreciate the statistical side of it,” said Harrington. Graeme does bring out the fact that he’s well respected by his peers, and I think that’s very important.
“You could give Graeme a job and he’d be well capable of looking after players, and the players will be very happy with him being their go-to guy, a kind of mentor-ish role. So, he’s strong in all departments when it comes to that because he does have the respect of the players.”
OMEGA DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC – IRISH TEES TIMES (Irish time)
- Padraig Harrington – 4.20am
- Shane Lowry & Graeme McDowell (8.10am – same group)