World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup killer Ian Poulter expect Team USA to go after them the way the Europeans used to gun for Tiger Woods, and it only makes them better, according to European Team captain Paul McGinley.
Speaking at his press conference Tuesday, McGinley was asked if he was worried that his two stars have proverbial targets on their back as a lost point from either of them could provide a much needed rallying point for the American squad, but he says McIlroy and Poulter have embraced the challenge.
QUESTION: Over the years Tiger played The Ryder Cup, if somebody knocked him off, it was a polarizing moment for you guys. The U.S. is kind of looking at Ian and Rory as those guys here. How much of a challenge is it for you to get off to a fast start and not let them become a rallying point for the U.S.?
PAUL McGINLEY: The two guys earned that reputation. They have played so well. Rory, to be No. 1 in the world, and Ian Poulter with his performances in The Ryder Cup; it's not something that we should be afraid of or embarrassed about … I can tell you one thing, it's a real motivating factor for both of them that they know that it's a big focus on the Americans playing them.
McIlroy's Ryder Cup record is a solid 4-3-2, but he enters this year's event coming off the best season of his career, having won back-to-back major titles at the British Open at Royal Liverpool and the PGA Championship at Valhalla, so expectations are even higher than usual.
"I think Rory has handled the expectancy on him as World No. 1 incredibly well," McGinley said. "He seems to be very comfortable when he has the favorite tag. I have no worries with Rory from that side."
As for Poulter, his Ryder Cup pedigree is legendary. He's 12-3-0 overall and undefeated in singles play.
"I think one of the luckiest things I have as captain is I've got lots of options," said McGinley. "I mean, who wouldn't want to play with Rory McIlroy? There's not many guys who wouldn't want to play with Ian Poulter."
Still, McGinley stressed that he wasn't overlooking the Americans, saying that winning this Ryder Cup is going to be an uphill battle for his albeit stacked European squad, the overwhelming 2-to-1 favorite to win the event.
“We know we are a very strong team, one to 12,” McGinley said. “We are under no illusions how strong this American team is, under no illusions whatsoever. This is going to be a tough Ryder Cup to win.”
McGinley is pleased with the course layout, suggesting that Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary Course plays closer to a European Tour course than a PGA Tour course, giving his squad a slight advantage.
He has yet to make any indication as to how he’ll pair his players, merely hinting that the Rory McIlroy-Graeme McDowell pairing isn't set in stone and saying he would rather keep things simple than be a "maverick captain."
“We’re doing what we’ve always done,” said McGinley. “We’re going at it again, and I’d like to say, I’d like to put a little bit of a cherry on top and roll it out for whoever the next captain is.”