Sport Golf

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Starstruck Rory McIlroy hoping All Black magic can aid Masters bid

GOLF

Rory McIlroy has his eyes on the Masters jacket
Rory McIlroy has his eyes on the Masters jacket

Karl MacGinty

RORY McILROY took a double-take when he walked into the gym and spotted a huge guy who looked remarkably like All Blacks ace Dan Carter powering away on the exercise bike.

"I thought to myself 'there's a big lad, it sort of looks like him, but what would Dan Carter be doing here? Shouldn't he be down in the southern hemisphere somewhere'," reasoned McIlroy.

"So, I got on the treadmill, but before I started to run, I looked back over and thought, 'no, it's definitely him'. I went over, introduced myself and he tells me they've given him six months off to recover from the Achilles injury he had last year."

Meeting the legendary New Zealander got another practice day at the Masters off to an exciting start for Ulster rugby fan McIlroy.

"We talked a little about about the Heineken Cup defeat on Saturday," he added. After jocularly suggesting he had tried to "twist Carter's arm a little bit" to sign up at Ravenhill, McIlroy quipped: "I think it would take a few Masters wins for me to try to sign him for Ulster."

Carter, a keen 14-handicap golfer, is visiting the Masters for the first time.

It said much of the reverential way in which Augusta is held and the modesty of Carter himself that this icon of world sport was overheard humbly asking his hosts if anyone would mind him sitting in the back row for defending champion Adam Scott's pre-tournament media conference.

Having won two Majors and reached World No 1, McIlroy is also a global sporting figure, though becoming the first Irishman to don the Green Jacket on Sunday would propel him to an even more exalted level in golf.

McIlroy believes golf needs somebody to step up to the plate and succeed Tiger Woods as a dominant figure, explaining: "To really drive the game forward, to be a legend like LeBron James in basketball, or Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi in football or Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis."

Might something in the Irish psyche make him feel slightly uncomfortable at being in the public eye, he was asked by an Irish reporter. "Not at all," McIlroy assured. "It took me a while to come to terms with it because it's not something you ever thought about setting out on your career.

"I'm certainly not at the level of Ronaldo or Messi in their sports, but I'm working at it and trying to get there," he added.

McIlroy (24) will be the oldest player tomorrow and Friday in a firecracker group with gifted Texans and Augusta first-timers Jordan Spieth (20) and Patrick Reed (23). Graeme McDowell drew Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, while Darren Clarke plays with Nick Watney and Stephen Gallacher.

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