Stockton takes McIlroy under his wing

Preparation is everything at elite level but if you’re wondering why Rory McIlroy is not firing on all cylinders heading into his defence of the US PGA at Oak Hill, just ask his putting coach, Dave Stockton.

“I just don’t think he has worked,” Stockton said when analysing McIlroy’s poor 2013 season.

It’s not that Stockton is not a massive McIlroy fan but the two-time US PGA champion honestly believes that the 24-year old Holywood star has struggled to manage his time properly or come to terms with the massive upheaval in his life since signing that huge endorsement deal with Nike at the start of the year.

“I think he is still learning what he wants in life,” Stockton said frankly. “That’s my take on it. He has a girlfriend and all these things going on. Things happen, so okay, how do you adjust?”

Stockton’s honesty is refreshing and he has no doubt that McIlroy will soon be firing on all cylinders once he finally gets on a roll by playing a number of tournaments back to back.

“Rory is never going to change — he’ll be the same guy in 30 years — and that’s a testament to his mom and dad,” he said. “So I think his is more of a time management thing right now. For someone that young to be that successful is a challenge and my criteria is that you don’t want it to go to his head.

“He’s signed this gigantic contract with Nike and he’s changed management company since he signed the contract. So he’s got all sorts of things going on.

“I don’t think it’s much to do with the clubs, I just think it takes time to adjust to all this stuff.”

Stockton helped turn McIlroy’s season around in Akron last year when he told the youngster to hide his real emotions and play with a smile on his face.

Last week, they were again working on the same mental concepts but there were also some technical corrections with Stockton spotting that McIlroy was using his right hand too much in his putting and applying “hit” in his stroke rather than simply rolling the ball with his left hand leading.

The pair worked again on the putting green yesterday but Stockton admitted that he was really only at Oak Hill for the Champions dinner and was not a fan of working on technique at a big event.

“One of the things I talked to him about was telling him that I want to do some work in the off-season,” Stockton said, again referring to McIlroy’s time management.

“The first time I saw him this year was at the Accenture Matchplay when you are already in ‘Okay, I-want-to-play-good mode’.

“I don’t like to be at majors giving lessons, because if your guys doesn’t have it by now, he’s not going to have it.”

McIlroy snapped out of a mini-slump last year when he finished fifth at Firestone and used that performance as a launch pad to an amazing end-of-season run.

But the world number three’s admission at Oak Hill on Monday that his efforts on the Firestone range had as much to do with his swing as his driver said it all about how much work he has put in this season.

“The work I was doing on the range last week was more on my swing than anything else, just trying to get it straightened out,” McIlroy said.

Having turned his game around by finishing fifth in Akron last year, before going on to win the US PGA by a record breaking eight shots, there is no denying that he is not yet close to that kind of turnaround this week.

“I actually hit more fairways and greens yesterday, which was encouraging. I’ve also done quite a good bit of work with Dave on my putting, trying to take the right hand out of it and make it more of a roll than a hit.

“I’ve still got that driver I put in the bag at The Open — it has a different centre of gravity and so I am able to turn it over a bit more and move it right to left a lot easier.

“Changing to the Nike ball has been more of an issue around the greens and the feel there. But that’s okay and I feel like my short game is really good. It’s just a matter of whether I can drive the ball in the fairway, to be honest.

“The ball I am using at the moment just has a bit of a softer feel than the one I was using before. It’s been great and I really like it around the greens. I love it in the wind too so the ball was probably the easiest thing to adjust to.”

McIlroy talks like a player at the end of his winter break than one preparing to defend a major. If Stockton is right about the time management issue, the real McIlroy will be ready to rock and roll before long.

Clarke and McGinley set for awkward duel

It’s no surprise that Ryder Cup skippers Paul McGinley and Tom Watson have been paired for the first two rounds of the US PGA but tournament director Kerry Haigh insists there was no malice in adding Darren Clarke to the group.

McGinley and Clarke were once close friends but relations have been in the deep freeze in recent years and last year’s fraught Ryder Cup captaincy battle did not help.

The Dubliner admitted back in February that he and Clarke had not spoken face to face since the ferociously competitive race for the 2014 job at Gleneagles.

Clarke’s decision to backtrack on a letter he wrote to McGinley, promising not to stand in his way for the job in 2014 before then changing his mind, soured the relationship.

Clarke eventually pulled out of the race when it became apparent that players such as world No 1 Rory McIlroy and England’s Luke Donald wanted McGinley to get the job. However, Clarke then surprised many when he suggested that a player of higher stature was a better choice to take on Watson in Scotland, which pointed to support for rival Colin Montgomerie.

McGinley is believed to be surprised that he’s been grouped with Clarke but Haigh, who runs the Ryder Cup and the US PGA for the PGA of America, said it was all a coincidence.

“It is how the computer spits it out, basically, within the groups,” Haigh said. “It is a random draw within those certain groups.”

Denying Tom Watson had requested to face McGinley or engineered a potentially embarrassing face to face between the Dubliner and Clarke, Haigh added: “Requests? We don’t do that at a major championship.” Sources say neither McGinley nor Clarke are particularly pleased.

Harrington may need special exemption to retain PGA Tour card

Pádraig Harrington might have three majors in the bag but he’s still in danger of missing the FedEx Cup play-offs and could have to use a special exemption to keep his PGA Tour card next season.

After missing the cut in the Reno-Tahoe Open, the Dubliner is now 128th in the FedEx Cup points and outside the top 125 who qualify for the first play-off event, the Barclays. He still has this week’s US PGA at Oak Hill and the Wyndham Championship at Greensboro next week, to move into the top 125.

As for his PGA Tour card, Harrington must be inside the top 125 in the money list after the Wyndham Championship. Right now he’s more than $120,000 inside the mark in 111th place and has a safety net should he fall outside the top 125.

With his five-year PGA Tour exemption for winning the US PGA set to run out this year, Harrington could still use a one-time only exemption as one of the top 50 in career money list to play the US circuit next season.

Stuart Appleby and Scott Hoch are using their career earnings exemption this year and Harrington could follow suit if necessary.

Heading to the US PGA, Harrington is 32nd in the Career Money Leaders list with $22,357,058. Tiger Woods is tops with $108,609,819 — $36m more than next best Phil Mickelson.

Where’s the beef?

Rory McIlroy will serve Irish beef to the world’s superstars when he hosts the PGA Past Champions Dinner at Oak Hill tonight.

The menu is a closely guarded secret but Dave Stockton, the two time US PGA winner and now McIlroy’s short game coach, is bracing himself for a surprise.

Stockton said: “I know there is going to be some Irish beef — and some weird friggin’ salad.

“He told me I’m probably not going to like it. It’s got cheese and something else in it and he said it’s a favourite of his, so that’s allowed.”

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