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McIlroy points to tennis for playing lesson

Rory McIlroy might be the No. 2-ranked player in the world, but he’s clearly on the top of the list of the most forthcoming interviews in golf

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy might be the No. 2-ranked player in the world, but he’s clearly on the top of the list of the most forthcoming interviews in golf.

Like Brooks Koepka, the man atop the Official World Golf Ranking, McIlroy is unafraid to say what he thinks and is willing to back it up, if necessary.

McIlroy has two key concerns with golf: slow play and the major-championship schedule.

Rory McIlroy, BMW PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy, competing Wednesday in the pro-am before the BMW PGA Championship, has his sights set on a return to No. 1 in the world.

© GOLFFILE/FRAN CAFFREY
Rory McIlroy, competing Wednesday in the pro-am before the BMW PGA Championship, has his sights set on a return to No. 1 in the world.

During time off last week, McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watched the Solheim Cup telecast and wasn’t pleased with what he saw.

“I don't want to single out particular people, but I watched a lot of the Solheim Cup at the weekend, and it was really slow,” McIlroy said. “As much as you want to sit there and watch and support the European girls, it's just hard not to get frustrated with it.”

McIlroy talked about being a fan and wanting the best for the game. The plodding pace from the Solheim Cup in Scotland supported his belief that something must be done.

“If you look at the U.S. Open [tennis] final, Rafa [Nadal] got a time-clock violation on a really big serve, like at the end of the final of the U.S. Open,” he said. “If they can do it then, there's no reason why we can't do it in our tournaments, either. It's just a matter of enforcing it and being consistent with it.”

On Wednesday here at Wentworth Club, site of this week’s BMW PGA Championship, McIlroy analyzed the state of his game. He won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup in Atlanta four weeks ago, and then tied for second in the Omega European Masters in Switzerland one week later.

After two weeks off, McIlroy said he had to drag himself off the couch and hit balls last weekend. On Tuesday here, he played a practice round, his first round since Sept. 1 in Switzerland.

“I played a lot of golf this year, and taking a couple weeks off, I don't think is going to do me any harm,” said McIlroy, who finished second in the 2018 BMW PGA, when it was in the spring.

McIlroy, 30, a four-time major champion, seeks to replace Koepka atop the world order by the end of the year. McIlroy sat atop the OGWR on seven occasions spanning a total of 95 weeks in 2012-15. Only Tiger Woods (683 weeks), Greg Norman (331) and Nick Faldo (97) have spent more weeks atop the world ranking since its 1986 debut.

With the BMW, Dunhill Links in Scotland, Zozo Championship in Japan, WGC HSBC Champions in China and the European finale DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on his schedule, McIlroy could make a serious dent in the 2.9821 points that separate him from Koepka.

“It's just, keep going, try not to let my foot off the pedal and finish the year the way I started it, on a very positive note,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy, like other elite players, has expressed frustration with the 2019 debut of a condensed schedule that fits the Players and the four major championships in five consecutive months, from March through July.

“I love the game of golf, and I as a fan would love to follow it for more than just the five months a year the majors are in,” McIlroy said. “Just try and keep relevance there.”

But McIlroy sees the big picture with the PGA Tour, European Tour, PGA of America, USGA, R&A and their sponsors. McIlroy and his colleagues will adjust. For McIlroy, that adjustment will start after the European Tour finale in Dubai on Nov. 21-24. He intends to take off for a couple of months. He said he won’t play the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui in early January and might miss the Farmers Insurance Open later in the month at Torrey Pines. He played both events this year, finishing among the top 5 in each.

McIlroy intends to accommodate two additional events in 2020: the Olympics in Japan in late July and the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin in late September, and he vowed to return to the Irish Open.

Most of the game’s elite players will compete in 20-25 events each year. By adding the Olympics and Ryder Cup, McIlroy likely will need to find a couple of off weeks. That could explain his potential January hiatus.

“I think the Irish Open is always going to be not just a possibility,” McIlroy said. “I felt that my best preparation for the Open Championship this year was to play the Scottish Open and not play the one before [Irish Open]. Obviously in hindsight, probably should have played it. But you live and you learn. You make these decisions, and you've got to live with them. I'll be playing the Irish Open next year. I most likely won't play Abu Dhabi or Dubai.”

With the Irish Open likely moving from its traditional week in July, perhaps to May, because of the Olympics, McIlroy again will be looking at a different schedule in 2020 than he had this year.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli