Jordan Spieth might have the X-factor on his side as he seeks the career Grand Slam but Rory McIlroy comes into this week’s US PGA Championship knowing that his game can catch catch fire at any minute.
That’s the view of Pádraig Harrington who believes the rivalry between Spieth and McIlroy, and their ups and downs, is not only crucial for the health of the game but a reminder that nothing is set in stone in the post-Tiger Woods world.
“You need the excitement in golf,” Harrington said of Spieth’s bid for the career Grand Slam and McIlroy’s hope that he can end his three-year wait for that elusive fifth major. “You need the drama.
“We miss the dependability of Tiger being up there. You guys miss him. You could write about Tiger, and if he doesn’t win it, he will be in contention on Sunday and give you some sort of credibility. It’s hard to get that ‘who’s going to win thing’ now.
“I think that’s made it harder on the best players. There are a lot of them around to focus on and they can’t quite keep it going. They are all looking over their shoulder at everybody else.”
Nobody knows better than Harrington that tiny margins separate triumph and disaster in the game of golf and he is as bemused by the coverage of Spieth’s Open Championship win as he is by McIlroy’s transformation from no-hoper after the Scottish Open to almost unbeatable golfing god this week.
“It’s a fickle game,” Harrington said when asked how he had enjoyed watching Spieth go from throwing the Open away to snatching it dramatically from Matt Kuchar with that incredible final six holes at Royal Birkdale.
“I did enjoy it. It is fascinating. There are two huge sides to it. You could be writing a different story (if it goes wrong for Jordan) but then he made a big turnaround. It’s a fickle game.”
Both Spieth and McIlroy have endured their ups and downs this year with the American overcoming three missed cuts in four starts around the Masters with a third major championship win that leaves him on the cusp of golfing immortality this week.
“He has the X-factor,” Harrington said of Spieth. “What is it? It’s the bit you can’t see. That’s why they call it the X-factor.”
When it was suggested that Harrington could see something of himself in the young Texan — that ability to pull off the unexpected through sheer determination — he didn’t disagree.
“Yeah, and he seems to enjoy that end of it,” said Harrington. “He relishes the battle.”
McIlroy has often been criticised for lacking the staying power and self-belief of a Spieth or a Harrington but the Dubliner believes the Co Down man will always overcome his slumps to triumph again.
Recalling the handwringing when McIlroy missed the cut in the Irish Open and the Scottish Open before coming back from a horrific start in the Open to finish fourth, he could only smile at the fickle nature of the fans and the media.
“Again, it is not two weeks ago and you are writing it as if there was a completely different story to Rory,” he said when asked about McIlroy’s position as the red-hot favourite to win this week.
“Rory is lucky that he has had this in the past. He has had his ups and downs and they seem dramatic when he has them.
“So he has dealt with it in the past, which is great experience. That’s one of the best things.
“Rory has had a few periods of three or six months where he hasn’t performed. Having that and coming back from that, it is tremendous.”
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