McIlroy’s Killarney pledge boosts Irish Open survival hopes
THE Celtic Tiger has returned for Irish golf in the shape of Rory McIlroy. After his electrifying US Open victory at Congressional on Sunday, world golf's newest superstar now can save the ailing Irish Open.
McIlroy's record-shattering win has been feted all around the world, with tennis ace Rafael Nadal, one of McIlroy's sporting idols, among the first to text his congratulations.
Yet it's at home in Ireland where the impact of McIlroy's victory will have its most telling effect in drawing huge crowds to Killarney for the Irish Open on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Left in the lurch when '3' decided not to take up the option of a third year sponsoring the event, the European Tour and Failte Ireland decided to place their faith in the Irish public and press on without a title sponsor this year.
It's a gamble that requires crowds at least as big as the 40,000-plus that packed the Killeen Course last summer to return ... or the Irish Open will fall into extinction.
Yet as soon as McIlroy received the US Open trophy on Sunday night, he pledged he'll be bringing it to Killarney.
"Definitely, I am playing the Irish Open," the 22-year-old confirmed.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open winner, and Dublin's three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington helped boost the crowds last year.
McIlroy also played, but the 22-year-old Ulsterman has now won the heart of America and the world by rebounding from his nightmarish meltdown at Augusta in April to win the US Open.
The US public embraced him like one of their own at Congressional.
"It felt like a home match," said McIlroy. "The support I got out there was absolutely incredible for a foreigner playing in front of these US crowds. I think every cloud has a silver lining, and I think what happened at Augusta was a great thing for me in terms of support.
"To be able to have that when you come over here and feel like you're one of their own is probably going to be pretty important to me in the next few years," added McIlroy.
McIlroy takes three weeks off before renewing his attack on the Major championships at next month's British Open at Royal St George's, yet he's also relishing the prospect of playing in front of his real 'home crowd' in Killarney.
After texting a goodwill message to McIlroy on Sunday morning, Nadal was prominent among the wide range of celebrities, sportstars, politicians and fellow golfers to offer his congratulations to the Ulsterman.
"It was just great to get a text message from Rafa," said McIlroy. "He told me just to keep doing what I'm doing. He said he was very proud of me."