Rory doesn't have a weakness – Darcy
Veteran backs 'exceptional' McIlroy for more Majors
Eamonn Darcy gave 37 years to Rory McIlroy at the Emirates Club yesterday.
And he ceded so many yards to the super-powered youngster, the Ryder Cup legend quipped: "It was just a different golf course the way Rory played it."
"That was a real eye-opener," gasped Darcy, speaking as much about McIlroy's game, one suspects, as the course, which has been set up to play every inch of its 7,301 yards during this week's Dubai Desert Classic.
The Majlis has grown by a whopping 599 yards since Darcy won the 1990 Desert Classic, a victory which earned his place in the 21-man field at the $600,000 Champions Challenge, staged yesterday to celebrate the event's silver jubilee.
The Delgany man defied the pain of a chronic rotator cuff injury and other wear-and-tear accumulated during his 61 years to give a fairly decent account of himself in his first round with McIlroy.
"I was worn out in the end. You know, coming out of the winter and not having played competitive golf since last August," explained Darcy.
"As for Rory, he couldn't hit the ball any harder. He really has it all and was wonderful to watch.
"Rory has all the shots, is working hard and appears to be doing the right things. I don't think he has a weakness. Maybe sometimes he can be a bit streaky with the putter, but he's stroking it well now and looks very comfortable in his own skin."
Darcy counts four European Tour titles among 15 professional wins, but is most famous for sinking a nerve-jangling putt on Muirfield Village's 18th green in 1987 to beat Ben Crenshaw and clinch Europe's first Ryder Cup victory on American soil.
Renowned for a quirky, but highly-effective swing, Darcy figures prominently on the A-list of Irish professional golf, but admits the recent Major-winning feats of Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and McIlroy went beyond his wildest dreams.
"Someone was always going to win one of them somewhere at some time," he said.
"But I never imagined four Irish guys would go out and win seven Majors like that.
"Padraig broke the mould at Carnoustie and then won two more," Darcy added.
"Rory has two Majors already, but he won't stop there. There are very few in the world who hit the ball as well as him. He's truly exceptional."
Still, Darcy took the honour from McIlroy and Richard Green by sinking a 20-foot birdie putt at 16, kept it with another at 17, then played the last in par for a 75 which tied Ernie Els on three-over, one ahead of Wayne Westner and Colin Montgomerie.
"Considering I'd two double bogeys in the round, finishing three-over wasn't bad on that course," he said. "I mean, I didn't make a show of myself."
McIlroy clinched third with Alvaro Quiros on four-under courtesy of a spectacular eagle at 18.
After hitting a drive across the dog leg too far left into the trees, the Holywood star threaded an ingenious 200-yard six-iron out of rough and through a gap to 22 feet, then holed the ticklish downhill putt. Darcy's craggy face lit up like a lantern as McIlroy's eagle putt dropped.
Swede Henrik Stenson said he is back to last season's FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai best after the 66 which earned him a share of the honours with Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello – they earned $250,000 each, while Quiros and McIlroy divided the $100,000 third prize.
Yet the 24-year-old Ulsterman's mojo and morale appear so high at present (partially due, he explains, to his recent engagement to Caroline Wozniacki), it's clearly going to take something very special to beat him on the Majlis, where he won his first professional tournament in 2009.
"I'm driving the ball well and it's a good course for me this week," explained McIlroy, who plays with two-time Dubai-winner Tiger Woods and defending champion Stephen Gallacher in the opening two rounds.
"A lot of the holes are going right to left as well so you can cut off a few of those corners with a bit of a draw."
McIlroy summed up his day in the desert with Darcy by saying: "We'd a good time out there, it was nice," though he uttered a mischievous "no comment" when asked if he'd taken any swing tips from the veteran.
Woods banished memories of last Saturday's shocking 79 in San Diego by playing his first eight holes yesterday in four-under.
That sparkle vanished after his approach found water at nine, leading to bogey, and Tiger looked jet-lagged as a splashdown, three-putt seven at 18 left him with a frustrating 71.