McIlroy fights back tears as he claims first Irish Open victory
Published 23/05/2016 | 02:30
The lead ebbed and flowed - just like the weather - but come tea time, the sunshine beamed down on Rory McIlroy as the golfer finally ended his drought on Irish soil, and in the process, raised more than €1m for charity.
While the weather certainly put a dampener on play from time to time, it had little impact on the enthusiasm of the more than 25,000 spectators.
"Rain, hail and sunshine," the fans endured it all, McIlroy said.
Although they seemed to care little and were even more boisterous than usual when their hero hit a monstrous shot on the 16th hole to take the lead.
McIlroy's team, Manchester United, won the FA Cup on Saturday, but the football fever carried on at Kildare's K Club, with chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole" echoing from the bars and the rough to the fairway as the four-time major winner strode towards the crowd. Ireland jerseys and green wigs were even dotted about the place.
"That atmosphere on the 16th was like nothing I've ever experienced before - Irish golf fans are the best in the world," he later said.
Almost everyone was supporting the host. One supporter, who had bet on two of McIlroy's closest rivals, Russell Knox and Danny Willett, as outright winners, said he almost felt "like a traitor" going against McIlroy in that atmosphere.
He might have felt even worse when he heard that all of the golfer's prize money, €650,000, is going to charities supported by the Rory Foundation.
The Rory Foundation, which has played a major role in reviving the Irish Open, raised more than €1m thanks to McIlroy's victory and a number of donations over the past seven days.
McIlroy's evening with Alex Ferguson at Dublin's Convention Centre took in a whopping €100,000 alone. The prize money will go to children's charities such as the LauraLynn children's hospice and the Jack and Jill Foundation.
The champ was commended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a "wonderful young man". The Fine Gael leader followed him every step of the way and was one of the first to rush up to congratulate the winner.
Earlier Mr Kenny stepped into the breach for Sky Sports when a rain delay left the broadcaster with air time to fill. However the impromptu pundit raised the heckles of Irish viewers when he predicted the Ryder Cup "clash between Britain and the States will be a test of mental strength". A number of European golfers may beg to differ.
McIlroy said the idea of the foundation began in an attempt to give him a real reason to keep coming back for the Irish Open every year.
While two majestic shots on the last three holes ensured the jackpot prize, he said the work done off the course was even more spectacular.
"I wanted a real, fulfilling reason to keep coming back and giving it my all," McIlroy said. "It gives me more fulfilment than hitting those shots," he added. He said he rarely gets emotional about golf or wins, no matter what the level, but the charity stakes involved made this time different.
"It all just sort of hit me. I was trying to hold back the tears."