Rory McIlroy defiant over equipment switch after Nick Faldo's comments

Perhaps it is a sign of Rory McIlroy's status that he is not of a mind to take criticism from a six-times major champion lightly.

Nick Faldo is the most high-profile figure to express concern over McIlroy's switch to Nike equipment. Included in his assessment was the suggestion that McIlroy was making a "dangerous" move from Titleist. The Englishman also said it would take time for the world No1 to adapt to the feel of Nike's ball, driver and putter.

As McIlroy prepared here for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, only his second competitive outing donning the Nike label, he offered a firm riposte. His body language alone suggested Faldo had irked him.

"Nick Faldo doesn't know how I feel over the golf shot and I don't know how he felt," McIlroy said. "But my guess is he was a little more analytically minded than I am. I try and keep things as simple as possible.

"If I see the ball going in the direction that I want, in the flight that I want, then I'm happy. It feels good and hopefully I can show that to everyone this week."

Attention towards McIlroy in the next few days is, though, intensifying following his troubled Nike debut last month. The Northern Irishman missed the cut after the glittering ceremony which heralded his equipment change in Abu Dhabi, meaning he has played only two competitive rounds since November.

The fall-out from his Middle East troubles, McIlroy said, was something he anticipated. "I knew it would happen if I didn't play well," he added.

"I probably put a little bit too much pressure on myself to play well because of that. Abu Dhabi was a busy week, there was a lot going on; I was just glad to get to the first tee on Thursday morning and play some golf. I didn't play as well as I would have liked but I have had a nice few weeks off and feel like I'm coming into this event prepared, ready and swinging the club well. I'm hitting the ball well."

There have also been minor alterations. McIlroy has added a new, heavier Nike putter to his bag and changed the shaft on his driver. His next test starts on Wednesday in this championship which brings together the top 64 players in the world – and his first-round opponent is Shane Lowry, his friend from the pair's time as amateur golfers in Ireland.

"Who would have thought that, a few years ago playing together in the European team championships at Western Gailes, we would be playing in the first round of the match play here in a few years' time," McIlroy said.

"It is pretty cool to think where we have come from. It will be good. It will be a lot of fun."

McIlroy offered a staunch defence of golf's standing with regards drugs, amid the ongoing case of Vijay Singh. The PGA Tour is currently involved in the testing of deer antler spray after the Fijian admitted using the supplement.

Intrigue surrounds whether or not the spray includes the banned growth hormone IGF-1 and, if so, how much of it. No decision with regards Singh could be forthcoming until after the Masters in April but the issue has put the subject of doping firmly back on golf's agenda.

"I think golf is built on integrity," McIlroy said. "Obviously Vijay wasn't aware that he was taking anything wrong or he was taking anything that was banned. I think it was an honest mistake. Of course, if you take something, you've got to be penalised in some way because you might be getting an unfair advantage against the field. But I think golf is clean.

"I don't see how any real performance enhancing drugs can help because, if you take steroids or you take growth hormone or anything like that in golf, you're going to get strong and you're going to get big but you might lose your feel.

"If you take a beta blocker or something that's going to relax you, you're going to get too relaxed and you lose concentration. I don't see any sort of drug out there that could really help a golfer across the board."

Powered by article was written by Ewan Murray in Tucson, for The Guardian on Tuesday 19th February 2013 20.26 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Ed McDonald