As has become customary, the European Tour’s annual gala dinner in London on Tuesday night gave a nod to Ryder Cup success. In this case, relating to last September’s demolition of the USA at Gleneagles.
There was a break from custom, though. McGinley, the widely lauded winning captain, presented limited-edition imagery to his team members, their caddies, the vice-captains and Ferguson. The legendary Manchester United manager took to the stage, where he recalled being “right into this” from the occasion of a lunchtime meeting with McGinley in Alderley Edge which revealed the detail of the Irishman’s preparation.
“I think great leaders plan better than anyone,” Ferguson said. “For the players, if they take it in, it’s a great route to success.”
Ferguson revelled in his Ryder Cup role, which involved the delivering of a key team talk in Perthshire. Thereafter, he remained as part of the European inner sanctum. “It was my greatest experience outside of cup finals,” added the Scot. “It was simply fantastic.”
The enjoyment was mutual and mutually beneficial. “I think it was very fitting,” said McIlroy of the extension of a gift to Ferguson. “I think I got more out of that talk on that Ryder Cup Tuesday night than some of the other players did because I had met Alex a few times and I knew him a little bit.
“To be sitting there having a team talk from him, being such a huge United fan and a huge fan of his over the years, it was a special way to start the week.
“It was nice that Alex came up on stage and got properly recognised. And as Paul said, he leaned on him quite a bit during a 12- to 18-month period. I’m sure that Paul learnt a lot from him. But I think at the same time, Alex was very impressed with what Paul had to say and what his ideas were. I think they worked very well together.”
Individual rather than team matters will occupy McIlroy’s thoughts over the coming days as he attempts to successfully defend the BMW PGA Championship he concedes was won in “slightly weird” circumstances last May. The immediate precursor to that single-shot victory was McIlroy’s calling off of his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki.
Whether directly linked or otherwise, the Northern Irishman has been in routinely inspired on-course form ever since. His personal life barely merits a mention, partly on account of obvious contentment. “This is what kick-started everything, really,” McIlroy admitted. “This win, it gave me a lot of confidence to go on into the summer and do what I did. It was a real catalyst.
“I felt like I was playing well before that, but I wasn’t able to turn good finishes into wins. I was finishing in the top 10 or top five but I wasn’t really contending too much in tournaments. So, for it to be the first tournament of the year where I got myself sort of into contention and to play a back nine on Sunday like I did last year, it did a lot for my confidence.
“Who knows, if I hadn’t of had this tournament things might have been a little bit different. It definitely was the start of a great 12 months.”
McIlroy’s victory at Quail Hollow on Sunday, his second in three starts, strengthened his position at the summit of the world rankings. For now, the 26-year-old is untouchable. It is in the present McIlroy wishes to remain.
“I don’t feel I’m unbeatable, that’s for sure,” he said. “Golf is a very fickle game and it can humble you quite quickly. So I definitely don’t think I’m unbeatable. Do I feel like I intimidate others? I feel like my name now carries a certain weight on the leaderboard. I don’t know if you call that intimidation but I feel that if players see my name on the leaderboard now, it might mean a little bit more than it used to.”
His issue this time around may be fatigue. McIlroy’s hectic schedule of competitive events added to sponsorship and media commitments looked to have taken a toll on him by Wednesday afternoon. Unusually, the 26-year-old was a tad weary having just completed pro-am business in the company of Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and the One Direction singer Niall Horan. “There wasn’t much adrenaline in the body today,” McIlroy said. “Once I step on the tee tomorrow with a card in my hand, that will be different.”
If not, maybe he could call upon Ferguson for another motivational message.
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