LONDON (Reuters) - Twice major winner Tony Jacklin hailed Rory McIlroy’s “sensational” driving display in winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and believes the new world number one can go on to dominate golf for as long as he wants.
Europe’s most successful Ryder Cup captain of all-time, however, questioned whether 14-times major champion Tiger Woods will have the appetite to fight back from the latest in a series of injury setbacks.
While McIlroy was easing to a two-shot triumph over Spain’s Sergio Garcia in Akron, Ohio on Sunday, Woods was struggling to clamber into a golf buggy that whisked him off the course after pulling out with a back strain midway through the final round.
McIlroy produced a dynamic performance off the tee, pounding out a sequence of long, booming straight drives to overpower playing partner Garcia.
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman’s victory also ensured he leapfrogged Adam Scott at the top of the world rankings, returning to a position he last occupied in March 2013.
“That was sensational,” Jacklin told Reuters in an interview on Monday. “I’ve never seen anybody drive the ball better than that, ever.
“Rory showed amazing control with the driver which made the rest of it pretty straightforward. It was a terrific show and it was almost like a victory parade after he started with those three birdies in the first three holes of the final round.
“Firestone is such a well-defined golf course, the rough is pretty bad so there is a premium on finding the fairway,” added Jacklin who won the British Open in 1969 and the U.S. Open in 1970.
“That was the eye-catching thing about Rory’s driving - he hit it so far but he was also hitting it so straight.”
Jacklin said McIlroy now had an advantage over Scott going forward because the Australian will soon have to start planning on life without his broom-handle putter in view of the worldwide ban that comes into effect in 2016.
“Watching the way Rory won in Akron and the way he won the British Open at Hoylake a couple of weeks ago, there’s no reason why he can’t dominate the game for many years to come,” added the 70-year-old Englishman.
“He is head and shoulders above everyone else. Adam will clearly have issues with the putter going forward but Rory hasn’t got any such problems because he uses conventional equipment.”
Jacklin believes the key to achieving longevity at the top of the sport is being in a happy and settled environment off the course.
“I look back at the way Jack Nicklaus managed his time when he was dominating the game,” said the four-times European Ryder Cup captain.
“He had that balance whereby he was someone who excelled at the game but he was also settled off the course because he had a wife and family,” added Jacklin who is the official ambassador for this week’s Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship (www.britishpar3.com).
“For Rory it might be down to who he gets himself involved with, in terms of a partner, and how he finds fulfilment in his life away from golf.”
Woods is certainly feeling less than fulfilled right now. The former world number one was absent for three months after having back surgery in March and he grimaced in pain after walking off the course on the ninth hole on Sunday.
“One wonders if he is going to be sidelined again whether he wants to go to the bother of clawing his way back,” Jacklin said.
“I feel for him in his situation but I think he’s got some serious thinking to do in terms of what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
“He’s got a lot of scar tissue there, he’s been surrounded by media attention because he has been competing at the top for 20 years or so and some of us, we get old quickly when we’ve been in this game for that long,” added Jacklin.
The Englishman, who led Europe to two Ryder Cup wins, one tie and one defeat in his four matches in charge, compared Woods’s situation to his own playing days.
“We’re not robots and I think he’s got some soul searching to do now,” Jacklin explained. “I remember what it was like for me - I quit playing regular tournaments when I was 38 because I wasn’t enjoying it any more.
“My putting was giving me problems and it started to become the only thing in my life I wasn’t enjoying so I stopped doing it.
“When you’ve been at the top of the mountain for as long as he has it’s not much fun slipping down. Age is one thing but desire is another,” said Jacklin.
“Whether he wants to go through the whole rigmarole of getting fit again and start clawing his way back to number one again is questionable, I would’ve thought.”
Editing by Justin Palmer