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Smyth backs McIlroy for a big year

He will win a Major and prove pivotal in reclaiming the Ryder Cup, says former Europe star

Image Credit: AFP
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the 10th tee during Round Three of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 10, 2018 in Pebble Beach, California.
Gulf News

Des Smyth

Dubai: Veteran Irish golfer Des Smyth is backing fit-again Rory McIlroy to win another Major and help Europe reclaim the Ryder Cup in 2018.

“I think he’s in for a big year,” said the 64-year-old, who will be playing in the Sharjah Senior Masters at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club from March 8-10, and won eight-times on the European Tour between 1979 and 2001, finishing tied for fourth at the 1982 Open Championship in his best Majors finish.

“I expect him to win another Major, and I’d be disappointed, and I think he’d be disappointed, if he doesn’t.

“He’s in the prime of his career and has suffered setbacks no doubt, but he’s as hungry now as he’s ever been,” he added of the four-time Major-winning Northern Irishman, who has just returned from a rib injury that ruined his 2017 campaign to finish third and second in his first two events of the year in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

“I think he’ll be focused very hard now on the Masters in April because it’s the one Major he hasn’t won.

“It’s the one Major you would have thought he would have won because it suits his game, but he’s made up for it by winning the other three and the PGA Championship twice.

“I’d love him to win the Masters and be one of the very few to have won a career Grand Slam,” he said of the five who have won all four; Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.

With a Masters win in hand, Smyth added that McIlroy would bring added confidence to the European team ahead of the Ryder Cup in Paris this September.

“I’m not just banking it all on him, but he’s a very important cog in the wheel and an inspirational type in the same way Tiger Woods is for the Americans. He’s one of the talismans now, himself, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, once you start rolling those names off, I’m not saying they can’t be beaten, I just fancy them to win this time.

“The Americans will come in as favourites because they won it two years ago and had a great President’s Cup last year, but you know we’ve a lot of new young players like Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton.

“At the last Ryder Cup, there wasn’t much in it and I give our team the edge now because they know the course and have played the French Open there for many years and I think that will make the difference.”

Smyth played for Europe in two Ryder Cups and lost both in 1979 and 1981 but made up for it with two victories as a non-playing vice-captain in 2006 and 2014 under captain’s Ian Woosnam and Paul McGinley.

Of current European captain Thomas Bjorn, he said: “I expect him to do a good job. He’s been involved as a player and vice captain on numerous occasions and knows exactly what’s expected. I certainly wish him well but at the end of the day it boils down to the players and I think he’s going to have a great team.”

Smyth will feature in the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters in March 8-10, which is round one of the 20-stage Staysure Tour, the European Tour’s senior format. Other big name former Ryder Cup stars competing will be Ronan Rafferty, Constantino Rocca, Gordon Brand Junior and Barry Lane.

Interested volunteers can register via surveymonkey.com/r/SharjahSGMvolunteers — there will also be a qualifying event on Sunday for local golfers over 50 and with a handicap of 2.4 or lower to enter next month’s tournament and rub shoulders with the legends.

 

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