Padraig Harrington on Rory McIlroy: “I’m actually very pleased with where he’s at. Rory is at his best when he’s trying to prove a point or two. Obviously there’s a bit of pressure on him, so bring it on. Just keep pushing him, and the best comes out of him”
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 27/01/21 3:46pm
Padraig Harrington is certain that Rory McIlroy will be one of “a few stalwarts” locked in for his Ryder Cup team, although he dismissed the idea of having more than three wildcard selections.
Harrington believes a win for McIlroy in the near future could spark a glut of silverware for the former world No 1, who was unable to convert a 54-hole lead into victory in Abu Dhabi as he was outplayed by “captain’s dream” Tyrrell Hatton on the final day.
The European captain is not concerned that McIlroy is winless since November 2019, and even suggested he wanted to “rein him in” when he kicked off 2020 in superb form, worried that his star player might be struggling with fatigue by the time the Ryder Cup came around.
“One hundred per cent, there’s a few stalwarts that are definitely going to be there,” said Harrington in Dubai. “Wouldn’t we all like to play as bad as Rory McIlroy? He’s there every week. You look on and just wish you could have weeks like him because you know plenty of wins are going to come.
“Rory has been great in his career, but he has had periods where he’s just not winning. This is a better period of not winning. The best period Rory has ever had of not winning is this at the moment, but he’s there or thereabouts all the time.
“If you looked at this three, four, five years ago he could have been missing a few cuts on this run. Now he’s just contending. Right, he’s not getting it across the line at the very end, but when he does, he’ll go on a run and maybe he comfortably could have a run of winning six, seven, eight times in a year.
“And from a Ryder Cup point of view, it’s a little selfish but I’m kind of happy to see it. He was playing unbelievable at the start of last year and I said it at that stage that I’d just like to rein him in a little bit and hold him back. We don’t want him burning himself out. We want him fresh and ready to go come September.
“So I’m actually very pleased with where he’s at. Rory is at his best when he’s trying to prove a point or two. Obviously there’s a bit of pressure on him, and there’s a bit of media speculation, let’s say, and Rory is always at his best like that. So bring it on. He’s in great form and just keep pushing him, and the best comes out of him.”
While McIlroy is attempting to snap out of his barren run, winning has been a regular occurrence for Hatton over the last 18 months, with his victory in Abu Dhabi his fourth title in his last 20 starts.
“He’s everything you’d want in a player for sure,” Harrington added. “Obviously there are plenty of good golfers out there but Tyrrell does seem to have it when he comes under pressure on the big occasions with big players staring him down, like he was going against Rory last week and going against Tommy Fleetwood.
“He’s a Ryder Cup captain’s dream, isn’t he. That’s exactly what you want, a player that has that gumption and can really get it done. Even though he’s won four times over the last year, they have been nicely spread out and it not flash-in-the-pan stuff. He keeps delivering.
“Last week, Rory took an early lead, and it would have been easy for Tyrrell to play nicely and finish I can second or third. But he took that tournament by the scruff of the neck, and from a captain’s point of view it was very impressive. That’s the sort of stuff I’d like to see all my players doing.”
The likes of Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia remain some distance outside of the qualifying places for Harrington’s team, as is 2018 record-breaker Francesco Molinari, but Harrington is reluctant to copy the US criteria and have half a dozen wildcard picks at his disposal and will welcome a “changing of the guard”.
“I did have a choice in how many wildcards I had, and I didn’t want any more than three,” added Harrington, who insisted he would be delighted to see plenty of youthful talent in his line-up, no matter what their experience. “I believe players should be given the right to qualify, and those who qualify deserve to be there.
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“You’ve got to give the rookies a chance to qualify. You’ve got to give them a fair crack of the whip. Everybody who is on the European Tour who is eligible feels they have a chance of making this team. And that’s very important for the morale of the team.
“Giving me six picks would have given me a hell of a headache. My three picks are to build on the nine players who qualify, that’s exactly it. I’m not interested in picking the 10th, 11th or 12th best player. I’m interested in picking three players who complement in foursomes and fourball and in attitude.
“As regards to age of players, yeah, an extra year is going to be a year too far for some of the older guys. There is a little bit of a changing of the guard. I am looking forward to seeing a few rookies come through in the next eight months and set themselves out as the new stars.”