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Padraig Harrington believes the strength in depth of the men’s game is the reason Rory McIlroy hasn’t found winning on tour as easy as he once did.
McIlroy, 32, hasn’t won a major since 2014 when he lifted the PGA Championship at Valhalla, holding off Phil Mickelson by one shot as night fell in Kentucky. That came less than a month after earning the title of Champion Golfer of the Year at Hoylake. In a golfing sense, the prodigious talent had the world at his feet, with many tipping him to establish himself as the game’s dominant force.
However, the Northern Irishman has failed to add to his four majors and still remains a Masters victory shy of completing the career grand slam. And speaking to Nick Dougherty on Sky Sports after posting a second-round 71 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Harrington weighed in on the topic when asked if he thinks McIlroy can get back to his best in 2022.
“When he was winning, he absolutely stood on the tee and didn’t care about anybody else,” Harrington said. “He knew if he played his game he was going to win. Obviously the field have caught up. There’s plenty of other big guys out there - big hitters, good drivers of the ball. The depth is stronger now.
“It’s not as easy for him to win because there’s other good players but I would suggest to bring the best out of him he’s just got to be comfortable with who he is and what he’s doing.
"I know myself when I was winning my majors it was just a process: ‘I know I’m going to win them, maybe not this week but I’m going to be there or there abouts in x amounts of majors. If I play well in three out of four majors I’ll be in contention in two, and over two years I should surely win one or four’. And all of a sudden I win 3. I was so comfortable that it was my time.
“Rory was very much like that. You look at his performances back in the day; nobody could stay with him on the golf course. Yes, players can stay with him on the golf course now but he has to believe, he has to get back to that state of, ‘I’m doing my thing and if I keep doing it over and over I might not win this week but I’m going to win plenty of them’.”
While a fifth major still eludes McIlroy, it’s not been all bad. Since the 2014 PGA, he has added two FedEx Cups, two WGCs and a Players Championship to his roll of honour. He also tasted victory as recently as October of last year when he recovered from a disappointing Ryder Cup to clinch his 20th PGA Tour title and earn a lifetime exemption on the game’s premier circuit.
And one thing he can't be accused of is a lack of hunger. Ahead of his first start of 2022 at Yas Links, McIlroy told reporters his goals for this season are lofty as he aims to learn from the mistake he made in trying to match Bryson DeChambeau’s distance exploits.
Instead, the 32-year-old will be taking a more measured approach, emulating that of a certain 15-time major champion.
“I suppose one thing I’d like to achieve is a six-win season. That's something I've never managed – five is my best to date. I used to sit down on the flight to this tournament and write down things like: 'I want to win five times; I want to win a major; I want to win the Race to Dubai; I want to win the FedExCup; I want to do this or that.
“And, of course, I still want to do all those things. Those things are great goals, and they are things to try to work towards. But I think the biggest thing for guys at the level that we're at is to set goals you can achieve, regardless of whether other guys have the best week of their lives.
"That could be saying I want to hit over 60 per cent of my fairways. With how far I hit it, finding that many fairways could be a big thing for my game. That may mean throttling back and hitting 3-wood a little more often or hitting clubs that are maybe not as aggressive off tees and just putting yourself in the fairway. Maybe just being a little bit more of a measured and a controlled golfer.
"I'll certainly pick and choose my spots where I can take advantage of the driver and hit it. But the best player of the last 30 years, Tiger, would pick and choose where he hit the driver. He played a very, very controlled game, and it didn't work out too badly for him!"
A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform producing football reports, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1. However, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing and now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.
Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.
As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.
What's in Andy's bag?
Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)
3-wood: TaylorMade M1 (15°)
Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)
Irons: Callaway Apex Pro '19 (4-PW)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)
Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5
Ball: Titleist Pro V1