Rory McIlroy is no Jose Mourinho! Paul McGinley says world No 1 and the Masters favourite is about more than winning, he wants to build a legacy for the sport

  • Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley speaks highly of Rory McIlroy 
  • World No 1 wants to be 'an iconic figure in world sport,' said McGinley
  • McIlroy's not all about winning titles, he wants to propel the game forward
  • McIlroy could be the sixth man to win the Grand Slam at Augusta National 
  • He is the favourite for the Masters, where his best finish there is eighth 
  • McGinley said McIlroy intimidates opponents, but not like Tiger Woods did

Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, Woods, McIlroy. Perhaps the biggest compliment to the man who would join the golfing gods this week is that his name does not look out of place among the pantheon.

Rory McIlroy could become just the sixth man to win the Grand Slam at Augusta National on Sunday, and while that represents the pinnacle of on-course achievement, he has designs on not just filling his trophy cabinet but becoming the true figurehead of his sport.

That is the view of Paul McGinley, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain extraordinaire, who sums up the attitude in this neat way: McIlroy is no Jose Mourinho. Winning at all costs and to hell with the consequences is just not his style, unlike Chelsea's ruthless manager.

‘Is it all about winning titles, is it all about the Mourinho way of “I’m going to get as many medals and titles as I can”?’ ponders McGinley. ‘Or is it, I’m the No 1 player in the world, I represent the game of golf, am I going to become somebody like Tiger Woods did, an iconic figure in world sport, and try to introduce and propel the game forward? 

 Rory McIlroy has designs on becoming the true figurehead of his sport, says Paul McGinley.

 Rory McIlroy has designs on becoming the true figurehead of his sport, says Paul McGinley.

McIlroy goes into this week's Masters at Augusta National as favourite but he's aiming for more than trophies

McIlroy goes into this week's Masters at Augusta National as favourite but he's aiming for more than trophies

McGinley says McIlroy's ambitions are unlike Chelsea's relentless win-at-all-costs manager Jose Mourinho

McGinley says McIlroy's ambitions are unlike Chelsea's relentless win-at-all-costs manager Jose Mourinho

McGinley, McIlroy's Ryder Cup-winning coach, says the world No 1 aims to be an iconic figure in world sport

McGinley, McIlroy's Ryder Cup-winning coach, says the world No 1 aims to be an iconic figure in world sport

‘My hunch knowing Rory is that it’s more about representing that No 1 position, and bringing as many titles along with it as he can.’

McGinley, by the way, is a die-hard West Ham fan. And he knows McIlroy well. Fellow sons of the Emerald Isle, McGinley helped coax arguably the greatest round of McIlroy’s life, the utter demolition of America’s own golden boy, Rickie Fowler, 5&4 at Gleneagles last year.

McGinley speaks glowingly of McIlroy from their time together on the winning Ryder Cup team

McGinley speaks glowingly of McIlroy from their time together on the winning Ryder Cup team

There were signs before the Ryder Cup that McIlroy was not just in single-minded pursuit of greatness, but had his eyes on the greater good. McGinley wanted to give short and sharp tips to his young charge on how to prepare for Gleneagles; but McIlroy simply wouldn’t shut up about it.

‘I swear, I honestly could not have asked for one per cent more out of Rory, in the whole two years of Ryder Cup,’ enthuses McGinley. ‘Every time I had a chat with him, he was so engaged with it. Often I’d be walking away and he’d be pulling me back to talk more. He wanted more and more, and he was sharing ideas, he was terrific.’

While it’s easy to get carried away in the face of such extraordinary talent, McIlroy still has one giant leap to overcome. He must stand firm on the slippery slopes of Augusta’s rolling fairways and conquer the course that has beaten him up on two excruciating occasions, and where his best finish was eighth last year. Woods, meanwhile, has mastered the place four times.

‘Rory is evolving as a player, and he’s evolving as a person too. He’s not the finished article, even now at 25. It’s not right to compare him to Tiger Woods. What Woods has done in his career is a yardstick, Rory is still evolving towards that and every year he is getting better and better, but he still has a long way to go to meet the standards that Tiger set.’

McGinley, who will be at the Masters in Augusta commentating for Sky Sports, the only place to watch all four days live, cites Woods’s supreme patience as the hallmark of a true great – McIlroy glaringly lacked the latter during his final-round horror show in 2011.

McGinley walks with Graeme McDowell and McIlroy as they prepared for the 2014 Ryder Cup

McGinley walks with Graeme McDowell and McIlroy as they prepared for the 2014 Ryder Cup

McGinley will be watching his former charges at the Masters closely as a pundit for Sky Sports

McGinley will be watching his former charges at the Masters closely as a pundit for Sky Sports

Four years on, however, McIlroy’s rivals know they are battling to contain a different beast. ‘The one thing that Rory has proved is that he’s able to learn from his mistakes and move on,’ says McGinley, who talks now of an ‘aura’ surrounding the man who will be going for his third major in a row after his Open and US PGA Championship victories last summer.

Does McIlroy intimidate his opponents before a ball has even been struck? ‘Yeah, I think a bit. Not as much as Tiger, but again he’s evolving towards that. When Rory’s driving the ball like he can, he’s very intimidating. He knows he has the ability, when he finds that extra gear, that nobody else can match him.’

There is a word of warning, however.

‘It will be a matter of time before someone catches up with him and somebody will challenge him. Tiger had that and then guys caught up with him.’

The men most likely to challenge McIlroy’s bid for immortality are most likely to be a number of old Ryder Cup foes – although Woods will surely not be among them. Bubba Watson, the defending champion, a reformed and refocused Dustin Johnson, the extraordinary 21-year-old Texan Jordan Spieth and Fowler, if he has got over his humbling at Gleneagles, all look most likely to push McIlroy hardest.

McIlroy is intimidating for his opponents when he's hitting the ball as he can, says McGinley

McIlroy is intimidating for his opponents when he's hitting the ball as he can, says McGinley

Tiger Woods returns to the fold for the Masters but isn't expected to be challenging McIlroy for the green jacket

Tiger Woods returns to the fold for the Masters but isn't expected to be challenging McIlroy for the green jacket

Masters defending champion Bubba Watson
Dustin Johnson is reformed and refocused ahead of the tournament

Masters defending champion Bubba Watson (left) and a reformed and refocused Dustin Johnson

Jordan Spieth, the extraordinary Texan 21-year-old, is also considered among the 2015 title contenders

Jordan Spieth, the extraordinary Texan 21-year-old, is also considered among the 2015 title contenders

‘A rival will be good for Rory,’ insists McGinley. ‘If Dustin steps up to the plate like some people are expecting him to, or Spieth, or Rickie, if some of those guys win a major, that’ll only be good for him. Rory has reacted well to adversity and guys challenging him in the past.’

But the toughest opponent McIlroy could face in future might not come on the course, but from the voice within.

‘The biggest challenge that Rory has got is keeping the fire lit in his heart. That’s the biggest challenge anybody would have. That’s what made Tiger phenomenal at the top for as long as he was.

‘At the moment Rory has it, he’s had it for a number of years, he’s got that incredible passion. Keeping that lit for another 20 years is another question. We won’t know the answer, but that’s his biggest challenge.’

That’s why it’s always handy to have a man like captain McGinley around, to help fan those flames. This week, however, McIlroy is on his own. Thankfully the fire is raging more than ever.

 

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