Two-time Muirfield winner Nick Faldo has told Rory McIlroy he must not be distracted by non-golfing issues if he wishes to rediscover his form this and become Open champion.
Six-time major winner Faldo, who won two of his three Claret Jugs at his venerable East Lothian links in 1992 and 2002, will swap his commentary position with US television for a tee time in the Open Championship on Thursday, his 56th birthday. The Englishman will be joining a field including world number two McIlroy, who has struggled all year with his form amid equipment and ball changes and a switch of management set-up and Faldo yesterday urged the 24-year-old 2012 PGA champion to knuckle down and focus on what he does best.
“I actually think it's a lot going on in his mind,” Faldo said, when asked what the two-time major winner needed to do to regain his form.
“I always felt, (as) my career went on, I got involved in business and other things. You need 100% concentration, off the golf course, practicing, as well. Most ideal thing I can do is go to the club, 9.00 in the morning, hit balls all day long and you leave at 5.00. And you think that was cool, that was great, what a lovely day I had. You've been really productive. You have to do that.
“You have a window of opportunity. They are my only words of wisdom to Rory. You have, say, a 20-year window as an athlete. Concentrate on nothing else. Hopefully when you retire, in your 40s, 50s, hopefully you have another 40 years to enjoy it. So just concentrate on golf.”
McIlroy has declared himself satisfied he has turned the corner and left behind the on-course woes that saw him miss the cut at both the US Open and Irish Open last month. He has settled on a Nike driver that gives him confidence and having played Muirfield for the first time last week his four practice rounds have given him a further boost that he can come to terms with links golf.
Faldo suggested that better be the case for McIlroy, agreeing that the par-71, 7,192-yard gem in the Firth of Forth was a difficult place to arrive at needing to find one's form.
“Absolutely. You better be laying it here. You've got to hit it solid. Anything, miss-hits, the bounce is 30 yards off line or it's in the hay. There's no options here.”
Faldo’s NBC co-analyst Johnny Miller has also weighed in on McIlroy’s current dilemma, offering several contributing factors to the Irishman's run of poor form, adding his romance with tennis star Caroliine Wozniacki and a mechanical swing hitch to the equipment woes. Having identified McIlroy's shoulder as being too open at address, leading to shots that land short of their target, the 1976 Open champion turned to the Holywood star's relationship with Wozniacki during a media conference call.
“I think he's in love for the first time. It's a wonderful feeling and it's distracting,” Miller said. “Then I would say it's one thing to change your driver or wedge but you're asking for huge trouble when you change all your clubs and your golf ball at the same time.
“I did it with Wilson and I went into an immediate slump for four or five months. His 9-iron and wedge have been really horrendous and he just lost the magic with his putting. He's hit the grand slam of things you have to watch out for when you're at the top. He's a bit of a mess.”
McIlroy will once again be centre stage when he tees off on Thursday in a marquee grouping with newly-crowned Scottish Open champion Phil Mickelson and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama at 9.44am. Yesterday's draw also threw together Ireland's in-form Graeme McDowell, who won the French Open a fortnight ago for his third victory of the year, with world number one Tiger Woods and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen for a 2.45pm tee-time.
Two-time champion Pádraig Harrington gets under way at 1.01pm, with 2011 winner Darren Clarke next up at 1.12, while Shane Lowry is an early starter, off at 7.49am, and Gareth Maybin at 3.51pm.
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