McIlroy 'unfazed' by US team's attention
THE United States team have made no secret of the fact that they are gunning for Rory McIlroy at this week's Ryder Cup, but the world No. 1 will lap up the challenge, according to his mind coach Bob Rotella.
Visiting captain Tom Watson said on Monday that it always boosts the confidence of a side "whenever you beat the stud on the opposing team".
Dr Rotella, however, said McIlroy would use the comment as an extra incentive to perform well for holders Europe when the biennial golf event gets under way with tomorrow morning's fourballs.
"Rory has a great attitude about it," he said. "He will embrace it. I think he is very comfortable with being the top dog and he's going to enjoy the experience.
"The more people talk about how badly they want to beat him, the more he'll relish it and use that to take pressure off himself.
"The way Rory has played recently, he's very comfortable with high expectations and people putting pressure on him. That's why he's the No. 1 player in the world."
The 65-year-old American said four-time Major winner McIlroy would also be able to share the burden of being the figurehead of the European team behind the scenes.
"My guess is that one advantage Rory is going to have is that he won't have to be the leader in the locker room," added Dr Rotella, who is an ambassador for sports bookmaker Betway. "Europe have players like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, who have all been around a long time and had a lot of success.
"They will be the team leaders. Rory will be talked about and he'll be the star player, but I think it will help him in that he won't have to be the team leader between matches. That's very different to what we've had with Tiger Woods over here."
Dr Rotella, who also operates as a performance coach and has worked with nine of the 24 players who will be doing battle at Gleneagles, said British Open and US PGA champion McIlroy's easy-going personality would be his biggest asset.
"All Rory has to do is go out there and play great golf," he added. "The fact is that he enjoys his teammates, he gets along with everybody and he's great with the media.
"If you look at him in interviews, he's a lot more open and comfortable than some of our top players have been. I think he'll handle everything just fine.
"If he gets beaten, it will be because the other man has played better, not that he has beaten himself or didn't handle the pressure."
Former world No. 1 Woods is missing this week after declaring himself unfit following back surgery. The 14-time Major champion has a mediocre Ryder Cup record and has only once been on the winning side.
Dr Rotella, who has coached the winners of 74 Major championships in men's, women's and senior golf since 1984, said the US may benefit from the absence of Woods.
"The Americans are going to have to embrace the fact they are underdogs for the first time," he said. "Some of them will feel less pressure because Tiger is not on the team.
"All of them will remember the last time Tiger was not on the team that we won." Dr Rotella was referring to the victory at Valhalla, Kentucky, in 2008.
"That's an omen and I think it will take some pressure off. If we win without Tiger, it will be an incredible accomplishment," he added.
"Some of them may think they've taken it too seriously and got too worked up about it all and they will say, 'I'm just going to go and have some fun'."