Rory McIlroy has strongly rejected criticism of his caddie Harry Diamond, saying that their record over the past five years “speaks for itself”.
The world number two’s continuing inability to land a first major since 2014 has led to comment about Diamond’s role – particularly on social media.
However McIlroy, 33, labelled lifelong friend Diamond an “easy target”.
“I think over the years I’ve proven I know what I’m doing out here,” McIlroy told BBC Sport Northern Ireland.
“I wouldn’t have him on the bag if I didn’t think he was good at what he did.”
Diamond, who was a top amateur player in Ireland and won the 2012 West of Ireland title, took up the role in August 2017 – initially on an interim basis – after McIlroy’s split with JP Fitzgerald.
He was soon confirmed as the four-time major winner’s full-time caddie and McIlroy has won nine PGA Tour titles – including FedEx Cup triumphs in 2019 and this year – plus the 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions event with his friend on his bag.
“Harry’s a really calming presence to have by my side,” said McIlroy before partnering his father Gerry at this week’s Dunhill Links event, whose venues include St Andrews where he narrowly missed out on winning a second Open title back in July, when he finished two shots behind Cameron Smith.
“He’s grown into his role really well. I think our record speaks for itself. We’ve won a ton. We’ve won two FedEx Cups together.”
‘I’m going to step through the door and get another one’
Reflecting on his Open Championship near-miss two months ago, after a season in which he finished runner-up at the Masters, eighth in the US PGA Championship and tied for fifth at the US Open, McIlroy insisted he remains convinced he will end his winless major run which stretches back to the 2014 US PGA.
“I’ve no doubt in my mind if I keep playing the golf that I’m playing currently, I’ll have a lot more chances to win major championship,” he said.
“The more I put myself in position to win, the more comfortable I’m going to feel in that position and ultimately I’m going to step through the door and get another one.
“It’s funny it feels like I’m on a journey to win my first one again because it’s been so long since I’ve done it. That just maybe gives people more of a perspective where my mind’s at. It’s not just ‘he’s won four…why can’t he win another?’
“I feel that was such a long time ago and I’m sort of a different person now and I need to relearn sort of how to do it. I’m on that journey but I’m getting close.”
‘It’s not all about winning and losing’
McIlroy looked crestfallen after the Open disappointment July but on his return to the home of golf on Wednesday, spoke of a change of perspective.
“The support I got the whole way around…. it still gives me goosebumps,” he said.
“I can’t have anything but fond memories of that week. It didn’t work out the way I wanted to in the end but it was still a great week. A great journey.
“The thing about life that I’ve sort of realised is that it’s not all about winning and losing. There’s a lot more to it.
“You still want to win and you still want to collect the trophies but at the end of the day, sometimes I have to step back and just appreciate the journey I’ve been on.”
In the short term, a strong performance in Scotland this week could help McIlroy return to the world number one spot above Scottie Scheffler before 2022 is out, with the Northern Irishman also defending the CJ Cup title on the PGA Tour in a couple of weeks before rounding off his season at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“If I keep putting myself up there and play the golf that I’m playing, I think I’ll have a chance.
“At the end of the day, the world rankings are an algorithm that the computer throws out every Monday but if you play well enough, it all takes care of itself.”
McIlroy started his Dunhill Links challenge with a four-under-par 68 at St Andrews, seven shots off the clubhouse lead.