Mo’s instructions were terse and to the point: “One subject only, Rory and the boys in Abu Dhabi, looking ahead to the Ryder Cup and no whittering on about people no one’s ever heard of. And NO photographs of frozen bunkers.”
Well, that’s me told and just when I thought I was getting to grips with winter photography, in my own small, phone-y way. No chance of suffering from delusions of competence, let alone grandeur in this parish.
Still, being hunkered down in Staffordshire in the depths of winter, it is lovely to see Rory (surely no one needs the surname McIlroy until all the youngsters named after the Holywood star start hitting the major-winning trail?) back in action and apparently fit – the slight thickening of some wall in his heart notwithstanding. He started with a 69, three under par, in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA (Emirates Global Aluminium), only three shots behind the joint leaders Hideto Tanihara, of Japan and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe’s No 1, the defending champion, of Southport.I know people who can’t stand Rory – they’ve never met him but there’s something about his bounce that irritates them, just the way one of my cousins loathes the sainted Roger Federer and my father and uncle excoriated the inimitable Harry Carpenter every time he appeared on the television screen, did that little rabbit thing with his mouth and then expertly and seamlessly introduced whatever sporting occasion it was. Dad and Dick did not care that Harry was the consummate professional, they didn’t want to know that he was kind, generous, industrious, charitable and that no one else had a bad word to say about him; they just wanted to jeer and sneer every time he appeared. If they’d met him, they’d have been courtesy personified but they didn’t want to meet him, they didn’t want to understand him, they wanted to indulge their anti-Harry prejudice to their (mostly good) heart’s content.
I don’t know Rory well, though Maureen does but he’s one of my favourites and I’d love him to win the Masters this year, to complete the career grand slam. He’s more than capable of winning at Augusta, even though other courses may suit him better but he may never win the green jacket he so craves. It won’t make him a bad golfer or a bad person but it’ll always be a gap in his resume and the longer he goes without winning in Georgia in April, the more it’ll become a gaping hole no matter how many other majors and victories he racks up.
At the moment, I doubt he’d swap his career for Danny Willett’s Masters title. With luck Willett will train on but he’s struggled since his moment of glory at Augusta. This is an important year for the Yorkshireman but being a one-hit wonder must surely be better than being no wonder at all. The trouble is that when you start to struggle, hordes of bright young things, as yet untroubled by life and doubts, start to stream past, dreaming of majors and Ryder Cup glory.
Thomas Bjorn, who once threw away the Open at Royal St George’s but enjoyed an excellent, extended career, is facing one of his biggest challenges as Europe’s captain in the Ryder Cup match against the Americans in Paris this September. The USA, triumphant at Hazeltine last time out, are full of confidence given the high standing of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and their cohorts but it’s never easy to win away from home, even in these global golfing times.The Europeans will have taken a lot of confidence from their victory in the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur last week but they’ll know that it wasn’t all that easy. The score, 14-10, sounds conclusive enough and the Euros dominated their Asian counterparts in the singles but the visitors were behind after the foursomes and fourballs and it’ll be interesting to see how many of the team will be playing in Paris. Ireland’s Paul Dunne, who didn’t win a point, indicated that he was a real team man when he said he’d rather lose all his matches and be on the winning side than win all his matches and lose the trophy – and he meant it. Don’t rule him out of the Ryder Cup team but it’ll be tough to get in, with the likes of McIlroy, Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, who weren’t playing in Malaysia, pretty well certain to make it.
Vive la France. Allez les oles!