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As one Celtic Tiger (economic version) whimpers in its death throes another emerges from Holywood in Northern Ireland who threatens to take the golf world by storm and break the stranglehold that Tiger Woods has had on the world golf rankings for so many years. Rory McIlroy is still only 19 years of age, but already there is talk of this precocious young Irish golfer going on to become one of golf's legends!
To be honest it's not hard to see why people are becoming so excited. Every now and again a sporting talent emerges that is so awesome in its intensity that it simply takes your breath away. Such a talent is this young lad from Co. Down. By the age of 16 he was already the top amateur player in the world having won virtually all of amateur golf's major championships, and when he turned professional he was playing of an official handicap of plus 6! (Expected to shoot 6 under par for every round he played!)
After playing in three European Tour events as an amateur in 2006 (sponsor's invites) he eventually took the plunge and turned professional after tying for 42nd place in the 2007 Open Championship, where he would have won over Euro24,000 had he been a professional. In his very first professional tournament, The Quinn Direct British Masters in September 2007, he comfortably made the cut, eventually tying for 42nd place and earning himself over Euro15,000 in the process.
The following month he received an invite to the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the home of golf in Saint Andrew's, Scotland. Against the cream of European golf the young McIlroy shot an unbelievable 15 under par for the four rounds, winning third spot in the tournament and over Euro211,000 in the process. A week later he was at it again, tying for fourth spot in the Madrid Open, and adding a further Euro41,580 to his already healthy bank account. These outstanding tournaments meant he automatically received full playing rights for the European Tour in 2008 without having to put himself through the pressure cooker environment of Tour Qualifying School.
He had a relatively quiet start to his 2008 season as he came to terms with playing against the elite in European and World golf, and it was May before he achieved his first top ten finish, appropriately enough in his home country, placing seventh in the Irish Open at Adare Manor. In September he came within a whisker of winning his first European Tour event at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, missing a 3 foot putt on the very last green to win outright, and eventually losing a playoff for the title to Frenchman Jean-Francois Lucquin. During the 2008 season he amassed an incredible Euro696,335 in overall winnings, at one point even being mooted as a potential candidate for inclusion in the European Ryder Cup team. (Which lost to the Americans in the USA) That he will feature in the next Ryder Cup match at Celtic Manor in 2010 is almost without question.
In his opening event of the 2009 season, the Hong Kong Open, (played in November2008) he once again tied for first place, only to lose a second playoff to the Asian golfer Lin Wen-Tang. But only last weekend (1/02/09) he eventually managed to secure his first Tour victory with a superb four round display of golf in the Dubai Desert Classic, despite almost throwing away the opportunity by dropping four shots to par in the last five holes and almost allowing Justin Rose to pip him at the post. This win has moved him to second spot in the European Tour rankings, with current winnings for 2009 of a massive Euro609,410 from only six tournaments played, and to sixteenth spot in the current World rankings. This means that for the first time we will see him in action in early April at the US Masters at Augusta!
I first saw McIlroy in action at the prestigious amateur tournament, the Mullingar Scratch Cup in the summer of 2006, where he walked away with the title while in the process making one of Ireland's best inland golf courses look like little more than a pitch and putt course! Despite only being a wee fella (5'7" and weighing in at a mere 11st 7lbs) he hits the golf ball a country mile, and has a short game that is a total joy to behold. He is very friendly with another famous Irish golfer, Darren Clarke, who took an interest in the youngster from an early age and has helped him with advice and tips throughout his career.
Remember that McIlroy is still only 19 years of age and relatively wet behind the years when it comes to competing on the cut throat professional golf circuit. But he shows the maturity and dedication of a much more seasoned campaigner, and in the years to come I believe he will become one of the world's top competitors, winning dozens of more tournaments. I fully expect him to win one of golf's Major Championships before he is too much older, and will be putting my money where my mouth is by having a modest flutter on him in all of this year's Majors. (Watch this space)
© KenJ February 2008
A Northern Irish professional golfer. Played his first professional event at the age of 16 in 2005 at The Belfry. Also in 2005 he became the youngest winner of the prestigious West of Ireland and Irish Close Championships.