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Sit back, relax and enjoy McIlroy
The drama that was the final round of the USPGA Championship in Valhalla on Sunday, August 10, played out in a comfortable script. Casual Irish viewers scrambled anxiously for chinks in Rory McIlroy’s armour as he bounced from tee box to green on each of the back nine holes. But to the trained eye, there was only ever going to be one winner.
His second shot to the par 5 tenth was like something out of a computer game. After a front nine that bore frustratingly little fruit, despite his best efforts, McIlroy whipped out a three wood and struck it all of 288 yards to within 8 feet of the hole. He marched to the green, sank the putt and the rest is history.
At Valhalla, McIlroy simply would not be denied. The triumphalist roars that tracked his closest pursuers up ahead might have caused a frailer mind to flinch and panic, but not this remarkable, confident, young man. Rather than chase the ghosts of former world number ones up ahead, the 25 year old focused his steely gaze on the ball at his feet and simply played his way to victory. It was never going to be any other way.
Something has changed in Hollywood’s greatest export. He no longer slumps his shoulders with a poor shot, or drags his feet if things aren’t going according to plan. Now we see a determination and composure that belies the weaknesses of his former self.
Three successive professional tour victories is a feat matched only by an elite few. That McIlroy managed it to include back-to-back Majors, with an invitational in Ohio containing the world’s top players in between, makes it all the more breathtaking in its magnificence.
In a sport where mental concentration will drain even the most robotic of focused minds, McIlroy’s feat deserves the highest praise.
It is too simplistic to put this latest reversal in form down solely to the break up of his previous relationship. Certainly, McIlroy’s demeanour since his split from tennis professional Caroline Wozniacki has been much improved and it may be no coincidence that his golf game has peaked since his decision to end their engagement. But, as we all know, life is rarely ever black or white.
Part of him, at just 25 years of age, may have felt too tied down. The pressure to rediscover his golf game might have also influenced his decision. But whatever his reasons, it is now blatantly obvious that McIlroy is all the better for his newfound single status.
His sponsors must be rubbing their hands with glee. When McIlroy originally made the decision to change lock and stock to Nike’s equipment last year, there were many who questioned the move.
“They’re not paying him nearly enough”, some said. “He’ll regret it”, others warned. Now, two major titles later and with an insatiable appetite for more in the years to come, those doubters seem foolish.
For Nike, their new protégé could not have delivered a greater return on their investment so soon into the contract. McIlroy is now a genuine rival to Nike’s long standing poster boy Tiger Woods. The Ulster man is everything that Tiger could never be; open, honest, good humoured and with a refreshing energy to engage with his fans.
During his dominating seasons, Tiger remained an enigma to everyone outside of his close personal circle. He never really embraced the fans, save for the odd tip of his hat or wave of his hand. His interviews with the media were dour and boring. It was as if he took pleasure out of saying nothing at all.
McIlroy is a completely different animal. I can only hope that his honesty and eagerness to engage with the media and the public remain part of his persona in the years ahead. It would be a terrible shame if the happy youngster lost any of his boyish charm.
For Irish golf fans, this feels very different to Padraig Harrington’s major run. With three major trophies of his own, including back-to-back titles in the Open and the USPGA in 2008, there are, of course, many similarities between the pair.
But for all of Harrington’s magic towards the end of the last decade, there remained an overriding belief among golf experts that the Dubliner had squeezed every ounce out of his natural talent in winning those tournaments. McIlroy is different.
Few would bet against the 25 year old adding to his major tally as early as next season; he is already favourite to win the Masters at Augusta in 2015. Comparisons are also being made with Tiger and the great Jack Nicklaus, something which never happened with Harrington, even when he was at the peak of his form.
McIlroy has the talent and the self belief to become one of the greatest golfers the world has ever seen. And like Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, he comes from a small island country on the fringes of Europe. That he is Irish is for us all to celebrate. For those of us lucky to be alive to see him play, we should treasure it and celebrate his magnificent achievements. We may never see his like again.
There is much more to the west Mayo village of Murrisk than just being home to the Croagh Patrick