This was the general consensus that emerged from a series of
interviews Reuters conducted recently with several top players on
the PGA Tour, golf analysts and a leading swing coach.
While most believed that McIlroy and Scott drive the ball better
than Woods did in his heyday, they also acknowledged that Woods was
superior in other facets of the game, a key factor in his dominance
for so many years as he piled up 14 major titles.
"When Rory is on, it's obvious he's better than everybody else,"
former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch, who works as a golf
analyst on television for CBS Sports, told Reuters.
"But I think when Rory's off (his game), he's further off than Adam.
Adam's 'off' is not that bad, because he has perfect posture,
physical strength and a great simple motion."
Frank Nobilo, another former player turned television commentator,
gave McIlroy the driving edge over Woods but felt Woods had more of
the 'wow' factor to conjure up some of the most astonishing shots
ever seen on a golf course.
"From tee shot to tee shot, you might put Rory ahead of Tiger but
from a shockingly 'you don't do that' viewpoint, you might give the
edge to Woods," said New Zealander Nobilo.
"Tiger's game was never predicated just on the driver. He beat you
in other ways."
England's former world number three Paul Casey, no slouch himself
with the driver, has no doubt that McIlroy's best is superior to
anyone else in the modern game.
"When Rory is on, it's not a contest," Casey said. "Rory's swing is
like a bullwhip. When he times it, it's the best you're going to
see. I've never seen a golf ball hit like that.
"He's not scared to hit his driver, which is why when it's on it's
so impressive and he's got the ability to win by a lot. When it's
not timed, he goes a little sideways and he gets a bit of grief for
it but he bounces back."
What is it, though, that makes McIlroy and Scott, currently ranked
first and second in the world, so good off the tee?
Neither has the fastest clubhead speed with a driver on the PGA
Tour. That honour belongs to Bubba Watson, who averages 124mph when
he makes contact, his ball leaving the clubface at a sizzling 183
mph, almost as fast as a Formula One car at top speed.
McIlroy (121mph) and Scott (119mph), however, are not far behind,
and Scott, in particular, is not prone to the inconsistency off the
tee that prevents Watson from being a regular contender.
Watson's clubhead speed translates into distance, as he leads the
tour with an average drive of 313 yards, a couple of yards longer
than Dustin Johnson and McIlroy.
Scott is ranked 17th at 302 yards, but he hits marginally more
fairways than both McIlroy and Watson.
Former touring professional Steve Bann, an instructor whose pupils
include nine-time PGA Tour winner Stuart Appleby of Australia, felt
McIlroy's rare combination of length and accuracy set him apart.
"I don't think Tiger ever hit it as far and as straight as Rory,"
Bann said. "Rory's path (with the driver) is inside and up, so his
natural free releasing shot is a draw."
But Bann believes the best driver over the past few years has been
Spaniard Sergio Garcia, while he rates Australia's former world
number one Greg Norman as the best over the past three decades.
"I like players who can move it both ways," said Bann. "Sergio hits
it right to left, left to right, hits it a long way and hits a lot
Baker-Finch was fulsome in his praise of McIlroy's technique, and
had no doubt that the Northern Irishman was more consistent with his
driver than Woods ever was.
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"Rory doesn't have to go back to a stinger three-iron often," said the
Australian, who won the 1991 British Open at Royal Birkdale. "Even when
Tiger was at his best and winning all the time, he went back to that
stinger two-iron when he had to.
"Rory has got tremendous hip turn and matched up with that beautiful
turn is unbelievable leg drive. If you look at pictures of Rory at the
end of his follow-through, he's fully extended from his right toe to his
right hand, whereas most other guys fold.
"He uses every fiber of his body to generate speed and he doesn't look
off-balance like Bubba."
Nevertheless, Baker-Finch believes his compatriot Scott is the best
driver when it comes to consistency.
"Adam, day-in and day-out and maybe for a decade will be one of the top
two three drivers in the world," he said.
"On his bad days he's going to be able to hit fairways, whereas Rory
gets wild at times. Adam is never wild because his technique is so
A glance at McIlroy's scores this year would appear to back that up.
McIlroy has carded several high scores, including a 78 in the second
round at the Scottish Open in July.
Casey, who played in the following group that day at Royal Aberdeen,
observed that McIlroy continued to play aggressively, even when his
round was unravelling.
"His attitude didn't change. He didn't panic, still took out the driver
and still smashed it," Casey said.
"He's the best player in the world at using the ground to create power,"
explained Casey, before citing the example of how a high jumper uses
pressure pushing into the ground to create energy to spring upwards.
American David Toms, the 2001 PGA Championship winner, observed that
McIlroy turns extremely long par-fours into potential birdie holes.
"Most guys who create that much speed are all over the place with their
footwork but he looks very balanced," Toms said.
Of course, being a great driver does not necessarily translate into
greatness, but as Toms acknowledged, being long and straight is a huge
advantage for a player if he is also competent in the other facets of
The past 10 majors have been won by long hitters, and that is probably
not a coincidence.
The last major winner who was a medium-length driver of the ball was
American Webb Simpson at the 2012 U.S. Open but the dominance by power
hitters is certainly not a recent phenomenon.
As Baker-Finch observed, many of the great players of previous decades
were also among the longest drivers of their era. Arnold Palmer, Jack
Nicklaus, Norman, Mickelson and Woods spring to mind.
Short hitters such as Corey Pavin and fellow American Toms may pop up
occasionally and win a major, but the odds are stacked against them.
"The best players now, and all of the major winners, seem to be the
longest (hitters)," Baker-Finch said.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)
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