McIlroy can take the ‘Celtic Tiger’ route to victory
RORY McILROY whipped the crisp, new £20 note from his pocket yesterday morning and brandished it with glee.
US Open-winner McIlroy is a millionaire many times over, but the pleasure of winning just a few quid and bragging rights from fellow professionals on the golf course never loses its value.
McIlroy and fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke had just taken the honours in an early-morning duel with US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and his fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen, this week defending the Claret Jug he won at St Andrews last summer.
As McIlroy (22) revealed amid the beautiful bedlam which followed his sensational victory at Congressional last month, he's motivated only by the desire to make sporting history.
"Even before the US Open, I'd all the money I ever wanted. It's not a motivating factor, especially after winning a Major," he said. "It has given me a taste for winning the most important trophies in the world. I'm playing for a place in history."
The character and courage McIlroy showed by marching to that record-breaking victory at Congressional just 74 days after his heart-rending final-day implosion at Augusta National, suddenly thrust him into a spotlight once occupied by the injured Tiger Wood.
Royal St George's has been gripped by 'Rory-Mania' and when the Holywood star appeared on the links yesterday for the first time in British Open week, the crush for his autograph became so severe by the green at 18, that he had to cut short the signing session for fear that someone might be injured.
McIlroy has been a godsend for golf as the sport desperately tries to fill the vacuum left by the decline of the Tiger.
Yet the sage words this week of American legend Tom Watson, who counts five Claret Jugs among his eight victories at the Major championships, should be heeded by those who already have rushed to install McIlroy as the new megastar of golf.
Watson describes as "remarkable" McIlroy's achievement in winning the US Open so soon after Augusta, saying: "It tears your guts out when you do something like that. He showed what character he has by learning from it and crossing over that big hurdle at his next Major.
"Yet, as Jack Nicklaus says, he has won just one Major championship. Whether he's going to be around for the next 20 years, we can only speculate.
"You want me to say he's the next great player, but I can't give those quotes because there's no reality to it. We'll check his career two, five or 10 years down the road."
However, McIlroy will short-circuit that process should he lift the Claret Jug next Sunday. Victory on a fiery dragon of a links like Royal St George's would prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that this charismatic 'kid' really is the sportsman for all seasons.
Especially when one takes into account the gusting 30mph winds he's likely to face when he tees it up with Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els this morning and the stormy weather forecast for the weekend, especially Sunday.
If fate had been cruel to McIlroy on Sunday in Augusta, Mother Nature certainly was on his side at Congressional, pouring no end of cold rainwater on USPGA plans to produce a golf course as firm and fast as plate glass. McIlroy, in stellar form, was virtually unbeatable in Washington that week.
Sandwich, with its bumpy, bagatelle fairways and many wickedly contoured and quirky greens, is a classic, old-fashioned links with sadistic tendencies.
In the absence of tortuous, knee-high rough which helped ensure the 2003 Open was won by American Ben Curtis, who started the week ranked 396th in the world, this weekend, weather-permitting, McIlroy and the rest of the Open field face an intriguing strategic test, the ultimate examination of skill, character, self-belief and confidence.
McIlroy has an opportunity this weekend to put a lot more meat on the bones of his reputation as golf's new Celtic Tiger. It's a challenge for which he lives and breathes.
The British Open,
Live, BBC2/Setanta Ireland, 9.0