INVERNESS, SCOTLAND | The UK press usually have a bit of fun with Phil Mickelson and last week at the Barclays Scottish Open at Castle Stuart was no exception.
In voicing his approval of the tournament having switched to so good a links, the American advised, “I expect that the winner of the Open will be in the field this week.”
Quick as a flash, there was an interjection from the audience. “So Rory’s not going to win the Open then?”
Mickelson started in his seat. “You people have a remarkable way of putting words in my mouth,” he laughed. “I didn’t say that. I was forgetting that he wasn’t in this field.”
Mickelson may not have been aware of McIlroy’s movements but everyone else at Castle Stuart was talking about the new U.S. Open champion. And wondering if he had been wise to have three weeks off after Congressional.
Colin Montgomerie, for his part, felt that McIlroy had got it wrong, though he did the right thing in adding a self-deprecating, “but who am I to say so.” In Monty’s view, “Two weeks would have been okay but not
three. I would like to have seen him play a competitive event between the two majors.”
Padraig Harrington, while marvelling at what his fellow Irishman had achieved, was worried lest Rory’s first few days at St George’s might leave him mentally spent. “When you’ve won any tournament,” he said, “150 players want to shake your hand and the same applies to the 150 caddies. That’s 300 people for a start. Rory probably needed to get the ‘locker-room situation’ out of the way a bit sooner.”
Lee Westwood did not mention McIlroy when he spoke at the end of his opening 65. However, you had to suspect that this mischievous soul was half hoping that what he said would reach his young rival’s ears – and maybe make him squirm just a little.
Westwood noted that he did not want to be out of practise in the art of “making putts when you have to make them, especially if you’re in contention and in the kind of position I want to be in a week on Sunday. The more pressure I’m under here, the better.”
On to Pete Cowen, coach to Westwood and Darren Clarke. Was he in favour of Rory having a three-week break? Though Cowan’s initial expression suggested that three weeks was stretching it a bit, he came to the conclusion that it was entirely in order.
His thought process was as follows: Since McIlroy had won and won so well at Congressional, there was no way he could hope to get up for a regular tour event: “So why not wait for the next major?”
Graeme McDowell was another under the impression that his pal McIlroy has probably played it right, especially since he had been practising both at home at Royal St George’s. “I had two weeks off when I won (the U.S. Open) last year and it wasn’t enough,” he said. “I went to the JP McManus pro-am in Ireland because I had promised I would and I played in the Scottish Open because I’d won at Loch Lomond a couple of years before. The pro-am was not a problem but I certainly wasn’t ready to play in the Scottish.”
Asked, by way of an aside, if Rory had done as he did in “celebrating to excess,” McDowell replied with a succinct, “I hope so!”
In this correspondent’s view, it would have been a far worse scenario had McIlroy not given himself enough time to savour his major triumph. Though he missed out on going to college, he is not – and never has been – all about golf. He loves his other sports and no one could have been more genuinely excited than he was when an invitation to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon came his way.
It arrived just before he flew to Spain for the Volvo World Match Play championship and, that week, he could talk of little else.
He will tee up at Royal St George’s having enjoyed the month of his life. Instead of hurrying back into “the zone,” as many a more addictive player might have done, he has been sharing his win of wins with friends and family – and total strangers.
We have had one star in Tiger who never got close to his public but now we have a very different animal on our hands.
Those 300-plus handshakes he will get at the start of this coming week may well tire him out. On the other hand, they might just as easily serve as so many well-struck practice shots in terms of unleashing a new rush of confidence.
People are already talking of how McIlroy could be the man to take aim on Nicklaus’ haul of 18 majors and how, at the tender age of 22, he is lucky enough to have time on his side.
Walter Hagen’s somewhat clichéd old saying could epitomize his way ahead.
“Don’t hurry, don’t worry and stop and smell the flowers along the way.”