Thursday 22 June 2017

Dawson - McIlroy open success would raise roof

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Garrod

A Rory McIlroy victory in the Open this summer would "raise the roof" at Sandwich, it was claimed today.

"I think it would be staggeringly popular," said Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson, who was at the Masters two weeks ago when the 21-year-old crashed to an 80 after taking a four-shot lead into the final round.

"He's already a popular figure, he's young, everyone wants him to do well and I think the roof would come off the stands if he won the Open.

"I think the hearts of all golf fans went out to him at Augusta and it was wonderful that he put up such a good show in Malaysia a week later."

The Northern Irishman was one behind with one to play in Kuala Lumpur, but took six on the par-five closing hole to drop to third, two strokes behind 17-year-old winner Matteo Manassero.

"Let's hope he has learnt from the Masters and the best way he can come back is to win a major," Dawson added.

"It wouldn't surprise me in the least if he does - what a talent - but equally it wouldn't surprise me if quite a number of others won either."

McIlroy has already made his mark in the Open. When he was 18 he was in third place after one round of his debut at Carnoustie and finished as leading amateur.

Then last July he equalled the major championship record with his opening 63 at St Andrews, collapsed to an 80 the following day, then came back to be joint third.

Italian Manassero was the leading amateur himself at Turnberry two years ago - he came a spectacular 13th - and today, his 18th birthday, finds himself ranked 33rd in the world.

"Winning two Tour events before turning 18 is astonishing," Dawson said during a visit to Royal St George's, where crowds in excess of 180,000 are expected for the Open from July 14-17.

"Golf is changing and good on it. It's an exciting time for British and European golf - Tiger Woods is not as dominant as he was and other players who have been at the top are well into their thirties or beyond.

"It's only natural that younger players will come through and it's nice to see how many are emerging from countries all over the world."

The Royal and Ancient has played a part in that with more than £10million of Open profits being ploughed back into the sport last year alone.

"We very much take pride in what's happening," said Dawson. "It's hard to directly relate it to what we do, but I like to think we are helping as much as we can.

"In every sport it seems players are getting better younger. Rory seems to have been around for a long time and yet he's still only 21.

"I think we are going to see huge interest in this championship. There are so many stories - [Martin] Kaymer, [Lee] Westwood, McIlroy, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Manassero."

Dawson was unveiling a course set-up that sees more than 100 yards added since Ben Curtis' shock win in 2003 and the par reduced from 71 to 70, the fourth hole becoming a par four again even though it will be only two yards shorter at 495 yards.

However, three fairways - the first, 17th and 18th - have been widened after it was found that less than a third of all drives finished on them eight years ago.

The opening hole is where Woods lost his opening shot and ran up a triple-bogey seven - three days later he finished two shots behind Curtis - and where fellow American Jerry Kelly took an 11.

Tom Watson, so nearly the winner at Turnberry just short of his 60th birthday in 2009, will be much relieved that the 17th has been changed.

Asked at Augusta for one comment on St George's the five-time champion, who has already sent in his entry form, said: "How do you keep the ball on the 17th fairway?"

Dawson stated: "On all three holes we don't want it to be controversial - we've tried to take that out of it.

"But Tiger's lost ball was not an influence - it was the overall statistics."

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