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McIlroy ready for the big time

Iain Carter | 19:15 UK time, Monday, 2 February 2009

In the space of four days he was told he was a better prospect than Tiger Woods was at the same time of life, he won his first pro tournament and his world ranking is now lower than his age. That's not half bad when you are only 19.

An Augusta practice round with Woods is being arranged for his Masters debut and in the meantime he's weighing up how to spend his latest winnings.

He's also wondering whether he would be allowed insurance for what he really wants to buy with the £302,000 he made in the desert.

And that's because Rory McIlroy doesn't turn 20 until the May Day bank holiday and insurance companies don't like combining the exuberance of youth with fast cars.

Rory McIlroy chips from the bunker on his final round of the Dubai Classic

They don't take account of much beyond the bald facts. Youth plus speed equals no deal. But if such firms felt golfing maturity was a worthwhile factor they would surely have no such qualms - sign on the dotted line here young sir...

McIlroy stumbled over the winning line at the Dubai Desert Classic. What might have been a stunning stroll to his first victory became a tortuous test of frayed nerves, but he got the job done by the narrowest of margins.

In some respects the manner of his win made it more impressive than if he had romped away with the title after assuming a six-stroke advantage on the back nine of the final round.

Consider the backdrop to this victory. The Northern Ireland youngster (how delicious it is that such a star in the making should come from a town called Holywood) was due a win.

McIlroy should have triumphed at last season's European Masters, he also lost a play-off in Hong Kong.

At the time, I wrote that he and Oliver Wilson must be feeling desperate for a win - Wilson still waits. Some of you misinterpreted this as me saying McIlroy was becoming some kind of choker and I was at a loss as to how anyone could draw that conclusion.

The point I was making was that he was getting closer and closer.

And it continued to become clearer that he was straining at the leash to cross the finishing line first.

From missing the tiddler that would have broken his duck at Crans-sur-Sierre, the boy with the bushy Dennis the Menace hair strung together a superb run of near misses.

There have been eight top 10 finishes in 12 outings including four top fives in the six tournaments leading up to his Dubai victory.

In the last of the three desert swing events he opened with a stunning 64 in the company of former Masters and Open winner Mark O'Meara.

The experienced American immediately compared him favorably with Woods at a similar age and promised to fix up a Masters practice date with the world number one.

Such words must have provided a huge injection of confidence, but they also heightened expectation. After that first round McIlroy must have sensed his time was coming.

This was the course where he has most experience of the big time. He'd won there as an amateur and was playing the Dubai Desert Classic for the fourth time.

He had the first round lead, plaudits echoing in his ears, but the job still had to be done - a high-quality field needed to be beaten and a winning duck broken.

"There was a monkey on my back," McIlroy admits. It seems apparent that it was weighing heavily, even when he opened such a commanding lead in the final round.

Afterwards he readily agreed with me that monkey was growing into a gorilla as he started to fritter shots on the way home.

"If I had not won after holding a six-shot lead, it would have been tough to take and hard to come back from that. But I was able to scrape in at the end," he said.

He did more than scrape home because ultimately it took a stroke of genius to secure this win. He executed a bunker shot of the utmost delicacy that had no margin for error.

In all the circumstances - water beckoning, Justin Rose ready to pounce, the emphatic lead all but thrown away - it was a terrifying shot that demanded huge nerve.

Yes he'd given Rose a chance to force a play-off with dropped shots at 15, 16 and 17 and by overhitting his third to the last, but take nothing away from McIlroy.

When he needed it he had the skill and temperament to see him over the line.

Remember the same green 12 months ago - a certain Tiger Woods looked like he had a blown his chances with a fluffed chip, only to drain an outrageous putt for victory.

Certain players have that happy knack of coming up with the required shot at the required time and it looks like McIlroy may be one of them.

Expectation levels are going to soar, especially as his world ranking (16) is now lower than his age.

His management company, Chubby Chandler's ISM, will have to handle him sensibly and I'm sure they will because they know just how precious a commodity this young man has become.

It is probably no bad thing that McIlroy is next headed to the US for his first tilt at success in WGC and PGA Tour events.

He will be able to take his initial steps stateside in relative anonymity, although I'm sure that it won't remain that way for much longer.

Happily all the indications are that he will continue to take his burgeoning success in his stride. Certainly it would take a significant shift in his very agreeable personality for that to change.

McIlroy is young, gifted and rich. He is now a winner and Dubai will be the first of many, you can be sure of that.

And that single bunker shot showed maturity beyond his years - the only pity for him is that car insurance forms tend not to take such qualities into account.


  • Comment number 1.

    It is quite unbelievable what this young man has achieved. Golfers seem to peak at around 30 or beyond so to see Rory soaring at just 19 is spectacular. And he's from a wee corner of the world where legends are appreciated - good old Northern Ireland.

  • Comment number 2.

    There is no doubt about it, McIlroy is a class act, but we have to be careful not to do a Justin Rose and expect great things straight away.

  • Comment number 3.

    McIlroy is Irish - they're a much more down to Earth group of people and don't have England's desperation in elevating any minor success to instant hero status.

  • Comment number 4.

    Why do some people have to use the success of someone from their country as a chance to have a go at the other home nations??!

    An interesting statement from

    "Runner-up Rose, of course, began his pro career with 21 successive missed cuts. It took him almost a year to earn his first cheque on the course. McIlroy, still three months away from his 20th birthday, is already heading towards his second million."

    Astonishing, well done Rory!

  • Comment number 5.

    Not bad for a look-a-like for Joanie from Happy Days! :-)

    Well done Rory. I hope you fulfill your potential, whatever level that takes you to.

  • Comment number 6.

    Rory. Believe you are the best, and it shall be so.

    When you get on the first tee with Tiger, you are better until proven otherwise. Every time.

  • Comment number 7.

    We are really proud of young Rory here in Northern Ireland. There is a good crop of young golfers from here beginning to make their mark on the bigger stage - Gareth Maybin, Jonathan Caldwell and Michael Hoey, to name but three. We wish them all well.
    Rory though has exceptional talent. We have to go back to 1947 to Fred Daly for our last Major winner (The Open at Hoylake). Our next star was Ronan Rafferty who won the order of Merit in the '90s. He continues do be an excellent job TV golf commentator and pundit. Next we had big Darren Clarke who has achieved so much, but (so far) a Major has eluded him. A great ambassador for the game.
    Graeme McDowell shows great promise, but just a little inconsistent.
    Let's hope Rory lives up to the expectations. There is no doubt that now he has the world at his feet. He shows maturity beyond his years. I just hope he can keep his head and feet on the ground.

  • Comment number 8.

    Just to add to post #7, another NI name to look out for in the future is Gareth Shaw. Not quite the same potential as Rory but could certainly mix it with the likes of McDowell, Maybin and Caldwell. Outstanding prospect

  • Comment number 9.

    Never easy to win your first tournament - it was a struggle but it always is. There's no doubt he is in that very top bracket of players who have something special, something that separates them from the rest - usually buckets of self belief, complemented and fed by huge natural talent. I'm sure he will go on to win many, many majors - his play on the back nine when in contention for a title has been a little shacky - but what else would you expect of a 19 year old on the verge of such a breakthrough?
    Once he learns how to focus better down the line (probably sooner rather than later knowing McIlroy), he could be a serious challenge to Tiger's dominance. Good Luck Rory.

  • Comment number 10.

    Please, please don't do the usual British sporting press thing....overhype a young, promising sportsman when he has some success and then if he suffers a dip- start slating him.
    McIlroy is no world beater yet.
    He's a very good player with a bright future but to start making comparisions with Woods or claims about his composure based on one bunker shot is just wrong at this stage of his career.
    Let him become a multiple european tour winner, then compare him to similar players.
    Let him become a race to Dubai winner then compare him to the Montgomries/Westwoods...
    Then see him win PGA/WGC events....

  • Comment number 11.

    It was great to see and the warmest congratulations must go to Rory.

    Hopefully we are at the start of a very exciting time for golf with a lot of very impressive talents at different stages in their young & promising careers. The best thing is that these talents are coming from all over, not just Europe and the USA but also from South America, Asia and less heralded golf spots such as Hawaii.

    This may well be the Tiger effect as these young men have grown up watching Tiger and his near dominance of the sport. The things that Tiger has done which have amazed those of us who had never seen the likes before will be thought of as almost normal to these players and will be what they look to emulate. Tiger raised the bar, and whilst the new pro's will undoubtedly struggle to reach that level trying to do so will come more naturally to them than it has to the likes of Els.

    I, for one, look forward to seeing them try and I hope McIlroy will continue to progress and will be one of the leaders of the pack.

  • Comment number 12.

    What a prospect it would be to see Rory competing with the likes of Woods, Harrington, Vijay, Mickelson & Garcia at a Major...........what a swing!

  • Comment number 13.

    It will be interesting to see how Rory handles his first big US experience.

    The WGC MatchPlay in the desert may be a little surreal, new course, sparse crowds, he'll be in the same oasis as the rest of the field.

    But good to hear that he and Sergio will play "Honda" the following week where Ernie defends. That will be excellent preparation for WGC's Doral event.

    Interesting to hear O'Meara's comments about Rory, all the more as O'Meara is credited with helping Anthony Kim's progress, as well as Tiger's of (and off)course.

  • Comment number 14.

    Technically he is as good as it gets. Mentally I think he is much stronger after his dissapointments last year. It will be down to putting and good management for him to make the progress we all hope he will. He has done everything right so far. Turned pro at the right time, earned his place on tour without going to q school and earned enough money quickly enough to build for the following year. I really do think he is the real deal.
    My only dissapointment is that others who were part of the elite amatuer group have not made the same progress as him. Ritchie Ramsay, ranked No1 amatuer in the world after winning the U.S. title, is showing signs he can make the leap. Lloyd Saltman, technically as good as Rory, winner of the silver medal, has not. It serves to illustrate that the margins are fine and how bloody difficult the game is at every level. I think his ranking of 16 is realistic. He just has to keep it going. He has fantastic ball flight that should help him at Augusta. Just needs to hole a few puts..

  • Comment number 15.

    Just to add to #7 comments the Golfing Union of Ireland has done a great job with Rory and all the young Irish golfers coming through.. Rorys win was the 9th by an Irish golfer in the last 12 months (Harrington, Clarke , McDowell, Lawie, McGrane) lets hope he can follow Padraig Harrington's success in the majors.....

    Irish amateur golf is also on a high as
    Ireland retained their six-man European Team Championship title in Turin last July. The Senior team claimed the European Seniors Team Championship and the Irish boys team won the home internationals ...

    The GUIs facilities in Carton House County Kildare are 2nd to none.....

  • Comment number 16.

    Get a grip Dougal-Guts, Rose won top amateur at the open thats it, McIlroy has had star written all over him since he was 15.

  • Comment number 17.

    The saying goes "the luck of the irish". In Rory's case it is "hard work, loving parents and "try, try, try and it will happen". Rory will be a success. 19 years and 9 months old. It can only get better. Go Rory Go.

  • Comment number 18.

    You have to give Rory all the plaudits for what he has achieved over the last 6 months...
    He has shown he can play golf but as everybody knows winning tournaments takes a lot more than a respected swing you have to be mentally strong.Don't forget everbody bigged up Garcia at that age with his great swing and spaninsh flair.But like a lot of young players he had not developed mental strenght.
    Had Tigers name even been on the Dubai Score board i believe Rory would have buckled like the rest of the tour would. I could go on and talk about Tigers mental strenght but there is no point he is from a different planet!! But for Rory to become a contender for more Pro wins he needs to immitate Tiger and Stroll around the Course like he owns it and that he has invited the other players to play along side him...

  • Comment number 19.

    Yes this kid is good, almost as good as Sergio, but we are still waiting on him to come good in the Majors.

    We need to give him time and space, and not have great expectations of him and put him under extreme pressure.
    I am sure he is a star in the making, but we all need to back off a bit, and give him time.


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