Rory McIlroy has just given Boris Johnson a much-needed golf lesson on a pontoon beneath Tower Bridge and is now playing a few shots to entertain the customers of his sponsor, Santander.

As he plays his final drive, he declares: “Now it is the Yanks. It is fun beating the Yanks!”

That is just what we want to hear from the world No1 as Europe prepare to defend the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles this week. But, asked whether lifting the trophy on Sunday would mean more than winning a Major, the 25 year old Northern Irishman says: “I’ll take a Major championship over the Ryder Cup any day.

“Individual glory definitely means more. I’d rank the Majors before the Ryder Cup.”

He has already won The Open and the US PGA this year, but it shows what really motivates the world’s top golfers. Not that the Ryder Cup means nothing.

“It is a very special tournament for us. Once in two years you get to play not just for yourself but for other people and we all really look forward to that.”

He admits that, if he has to hole a putt on the final green to win the trophy: “It would be a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility, more than in an individual tournament because it’s for everyone. So it would mean a lot to get that done.”

American captain Tom Watson talks of targeting McIlroy as one of Europe’s “big dogs”. But this has made McIlroy, who was in London to promote Santander’s 123 World, only more determined.

“I know that I’m going to accept a bit more responsibility in the team and lead by example. I’m looking forward to fulfilling that role. When you get the other side talking about you, it’s always a compliment.”

With Europe having four of the world’s top six players, McIlroy says: “We’re in a good place, a lot of the guys have played very well this year.”

But, for him, what is crucial for Paul McGinley’s team is that they are at home.

That advantage, he emphasises, is “more the crowd than the style of golf course. Maybe if we get some bad weather conditions, our guys are a little more used to that than the Americans are. But the crowd have a huge role to play.

“If we get the crowd behind us, we’ll obviously have a great chance to win with the players we have.”

But surely one of those players, Graeme McDowell, could cause McIlroy a problem. The two used to be managed by the same company, Horizon. Now, with McIlroy suing Horizon, his lawyers have asked for details of McDowell’s deals with the company.

However, McIlroy insists: “We’ve had a good partnership in the past, our chemistry works well on the golf course so, if Paul decides to put us together, that’s great.

G Mac and I have got a great relationship. We were out for dinner two weeks ago in Denver and I’m looking forward to teeing up with him again.

One man who will not tee it up at Gleneagles is the injured Tiger Woods. When  asked if this makes a difference, McIlroy’s response shows how much the Woods aura has declined. “Does the absence of Tiger make any difference?” he asks rhetorically then, after a pause, answers: “A 100 per cent fit Tiger Woods is always going to be an asset to your team. But we’re not underestimating the Americans at all. They’ve still got 12 very strong players.”

Surely Watson could have strengthened the team by picking Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk, winner and runner-up in the FedEx Cup after Horschel won the Tour Championship two weeks ago?

McIlroy agrees. “If I had to pick today, of course I would pick Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk,” he said. “But Tom Watson didn’t have that luxury. He had to pick a few weeks ago when Billy and Chris weren’t on this run.

“He made the right decision. The players he has picked are very experienced. Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, they’ve all played Ryder Cups. Especially playing away from home, you need players who have experience in the Ryder Cup.”

But doesn’t Watson’s greater record give him an enormous advantage over McGinley? Watson is one of golf’s legends, having won eight Majors, including five Opens, while McGinley won four tournaments in his entire career.

“Credentials mean very little when it comes to captaincy,” says McIlroy. “Some of our best captains haven’t won Majors. Sam Torrance and Colin Montgomerie were two incredibly good captains. A captain needs to be respected and Paul McGinley is respected as a leader and a man.”

McIlroy also brushes aside Ian Woosnam’s criticism of McGinley for having five instead of the more usual four vice-captains, saying: “Paul knows what he needs and what he wants. I’m fully behind any decision he makes. I was very vocal in wanting Paul to be Ryder Cup captain. I’ve played under Paul in the Seve Trophy and he was fantastic. I’m sure he’s going to do a great job.

“I have a good enough relationship with McGinley but he’s the one who makes the final decisions. I have no problem with that at all.”

Of course, it helps that, in the European Ryder Cup team, there are no hot-heads to be managed. “No, everyone’s pretty level headed,” says McIlroy. “Everyone’s excited to meet up and be part of a team.”

With Europe having won five of the last six and the Americans not having won away since the Belfry in 1993, Europeans can claim to bond better. But McIlroy warns Gleneagles might be different.

“For a while, it meant more to us to be Europeans but, because America hasn’t won it that regularly over the past few years, they really want to win. They want it so badly this does mean a lot to them. We’ll have to play really well to beat them. There’s no complacency on our side.”

This feeling clearly runs through the Europeans, with Lee Westwood having lost 23 pounds to get ready.

“Has he?” asks McIlroy, when told that news. “Oh, wow, good. I remember a few years ago he was in great shape and then sort of went away from that lifestyle a bit. It’s great to hear that he’s back in shape.”

McIlroy has also overcome problems. “Physically, I feel fine,” he says. “Mentally, I was a little drained. I was starting to fall out of love with the game in the last couple of weeks. It was a long stretch for me and I don’t like to play that often. So I decided to have a week off after the FedEx Cup just trying to get the energy levels back up a bit.”

He has travelled to Gleneagles after a few nights home in Northern Ireland. “I’ve just chilled out being the Rory McIlroy my friends and family know and not the Rory everyone else sees on the course.

“Success hasn’t changed me. People who know me best and know me from when I was a kid would say I’m still the same guy who just wants to play golf, play well and try to win tournaments. Hopefully, I’m going to feel recharged, fresh and raring to go by Friday.”

Europe will certainly hope so.

The full article for the Evening Standard:


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