McIlroy hits back at Faldo

Rory McIlroy (AP)
Rory McIlroy (AP)

Gullane - -Rory McIlroy struck back at critics on Wednesday, insisting his game was "heading in the right direction" on the eve of the British Open and asking "what's the big deal?" about his recent slump.

The world number two from Northern Ireland has failed to win a tournament all year after changing his management company and deciding to switch equipment providers, from Titleist to Nike.

Some pundits have suggested his high-profile relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki may also be contributing to his decline.

Fans are desperate for the Ulsterman, a golfing prodigy who in 2012 became the youngest player to win two majors since Seve Ballesteros in 1980, to rediscover his form.

"You're going to go through highs and you're going to go through lows.

"It's just about trying to work your way out of the lows," McIlroy told a press conference at Muirfield.

"It's been difficult to try, I guess, explain why I'm not playing well or why I haven't had the results that I've wanted over the past six months. But I know that I'm working on the right things and I know that I'm doing the right things and I'm staying patient.

"And I know sooner or later it will turn around and I'll play the golf that everyone knows that I'm capable of and the golf that I know that's capable of winning major championships."

McIlroy fended off what he regarded as unwarranted advice from major winners Nick Faldo and Tony Jacklin on the eve of the Open.

Faldo said he should focus 100 percent on golf, while Jacklin said he needed to play more tournaments.

"It seems like a few guys have forgotten in a short space of time how hard you have to work and how tough this game can be," McIlroy said.

Asked what he thought about all the criticism he was getting, the 24-year-old reigning US PGA champion replied: "What's the big deal? I haven't had the best six months, but it's okay. I'm fine. I've got a good life. So, you know, it doesn't bother me. I'm in a good place."

The man who deposed McIlroy as world number one, his close friend Tiger Woods, had some words of comfort for him on Tuesday, recalling that he had endured similar struggles early in his career.

"He (Woods) set the bar so high and that's the expectations that everyone thought he was going to live up to," McIlroy said.

"And it was only a couple of years ago that he had dropped outside the top 50 in the world. And he's worked his way back up. And he's now the best player in the world again."

McIlroy defended his decision to change all his equipment at the same time rather than do it incrementally.

"I don't mind maybe not playing your best golf for six months.

"It isn't a huge sacrifice in a 30-year career," he said.

The tinkering continues as McIlroy will have a new driver in the bag this week.

"It's a different head shape. More of a pear shape, but it encourages the club face to close over a little bit more," he said, adding that it was designed to eliminate loose tee shots out right that have been dogging his game.

Asked what shape his golf was in generally, he replied: "Promising. I think that's the word. It's promising. It's definitely heading in the right direction and I'm excited for the next few weeks."

McIlroy said the challenges of links golf, particularly on bone-dry Muirfield where the run of the ball and the angles of the slopes are key, might help people swing more freely.

"You're not really thinking about many swing shots. You're thinking about shot shapes, you're thinking about ball flights, where the ball will land, what it's going to do when it hits the ground.

"In that way it will probably free a lot of players up because you're so concentrated on playing a certain shot rather than making a swing."

McIlroy tees off at 10:44 on Thursday alongside four-time major champion Phil Mickelson and Japanese rising star Hideki Matsuyama.

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