It’s no secret that the relationship between Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy has drastically changed over the past few years. While it doesn’t seem that long ago when McDowell was watching proudly by the 18th green on Sunday at Congressional as McIlroy walked up the fairway on the way to his first major victory at the 2011 U.S. Open, the little-brother/big-brother dynamic between them no longer exists.
Of course that partly has to do with Rory coming into his own, but much of it is a by-product of the drawn-out lawsuit between McIlroy and his former management company, Horizon, which still represents McDowell, who has inevitably been dragged into the proceedings. Just last week, a Dublin judge ruled for the case to be settled outside of court in order to avoid some sensitive business regarding McDowell’s financial situation being brought into the public realm.
McIlroy and McDowell have always insisted that this wouldn’t affect their Ryder Cup partnership. The pair have been partnered together six times during the past two editions of the biennial matches in 2010 and 2012.
However, for more than one reason, this relationship will likely not be rekindled this week at Gleneagles. European captain Paul McGinley implied on Monday that he might shake up the formerly merry pair.
“It’s not an issue and it’s not been an issue for me in terms of Ryder Cup captaincy over the last year, certainly, since these court proceedings started.
“Both of them have assured me all along that there’s no issues and that’s the way I’ve always seen it. Whether they come together or not is another story. Three or four months ago, I had a very strong view that they would have been, but the more I look at their statistics and the more I look at the different value I have with them, I’m thinking there may be a value in not doing it.”
McGinley was quick to insist it had nothing to do with the legal row.
“But if I don’t do it, it certainly won’t be because of any issues,” he said. “As both of them have said, there are no issues between them and both of them will be happy to play together. But it will be my decision ultimately.”
Asked which stats he analyzed to come to the conclusion of splitting the pair, McGinley said, “As I say, I’ve got lots of options with them. But if I don’t decide to play them, it would be for tactical reasons. It won’t be for any other reasons.
“They have played six Ryder Cup matches and they have only won two together. It’s not like these guys are written in stone. They are not a formidable foursome, not a formidable fourball pairing that’s unbeatable.
“Having said that, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t play together. They were paired, and when I was captain of the Seve Trophy I had them paired together and they played very well in that. So I’ve got lots of options with them but it doesn’t have to be that they have to be together.”
McDowell was able to shed more light on the change in dynamic between him and McIlroy on his press conference on Tuesday morning. He backed McGinley’s explanation and provided a very candid and logical reasoning.
“There’s no doubt our personal issues have been well documented the last couple of years,” McDowell said. “And I believe that we’ve both come out of the other end of that probably better friends than we were going into it. So our personal issues are not a problem this weekend, that’s a fact.”
McDowell clarified that they were a less natural pairing than before because McIlroy may have outgrown him. However, they’re likely to stay together for the foursomes matches and separate for the fourball format.
“Rory and I’s golf dynamic has changed significantly from the first time we ever played together back when perhaps the older brother/kind of younger brother leadership role that maybe I had with him, that’s changed,” said McDowell.
“He’s the world’s No1 player. He’s a four-times major champion. The dynamic between him and I is changed forever. He would now be the leader of the two of us and perhaps the dynamic doesn’t work as well as it did in the past. Perhaps I’m the kind of guy that needs that leadership role a little bit, who needs to feel like he is on at least on a level with the guy he’s playing with. I’ll be the first to admit it.
“At Medinah a couple of years ago, and Rory and I spoke about this, I found the better ball format very difficult with him because he likes to go first, I let him at it, and I kind of come second. You know, he’s standing there beating it 350 down the middle, and I put my tee in the ground thinking there’s not really a lot of point in me hitting this tee shot and find myself throwing myself at it, and literally it kind of didn’t help my game much at Medinah playing better-ball with him. Foursomes I think is different. I think we could still play foursomes really well together.”
McDowell also disclosed that he had made McGinley aware of his thoughts.
“He felt like himself and Padraig Harrington were the same way,” he said. “They gelled well as a partnership in their early days, but when Harrington became the star, the dynamic changed from a tactical point of view. It just didn’t work so well any more. So I kind of feel that’s kind of the way Rory and I are viewing this week.”
Meanwhile, it’s not completely apparent yet whom McGinley will pair with McIlroy in fourballs. In Tuesday’s practice round, the Europeans were sent out in threesomes and McIlroy played alongside Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia. Personally, the duo of McIlroy and Garcia in the fourball format makes a lot of sense to me — both are power-hitters and two of the best ballstrikers in the world whose games seem to complement each other, not to mention they’re close friends.