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Rory McIlroy: The astonishing rise to fame of the Northern Ireland golf superstar

By Ivan Little

The Serrekunda Daily News in Africa and the Penguin paper on the Falkland Islands don’t appear to have heard of him yet.

In local publications high in the Peruvian Andes, there’s not a dickey-bird about the fastest rising sports star in the universe.

But everywhere else — from the Gazette in the Outer Hebrides to the Statesman in Boise, Idaho — it seems the world has definitely got the word; that Rory McIlroy, a curly-haired charmer and golfing sensation from Northern Ireland has conquered planet golf.

The fact that in many publications they used only his Christian name in the headlines is proof Rory is number one. Bar none.

The 22-year-old Holywood man’s smiling face is on the front pages as well as the back pages of many newspapers right around the globe — though Hollywood hero Terry George gave him a run for his money as he arrived back home in Northern Ireland with his Oscar, completing a quite remarkable double for Co Down.

McIlroy might be a storyline for a future George biopic, but for the moment Rory’s advisers will be contemplating just how they can make the world even more of an oyster for Ulster’s favourite son who stands on the threshold of becoming the most famous Irishman ever.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is also certain to examine ways of making golf even more of a Rory-ing success.

For McIlroy, of course, the victory in Florida will mean that his fast-changing life will be transformed even more. Rarely — if ever — again will he be a face in a crowd. Anywhere.

Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley and Liam Neeson used to be the most instantly recognisable figures from these parts. Even St Patrick, arguably the most illustrious man on the island, was a blown-in.

But if he goes on the way he’s going, McIlroy could be the Paddy of them all.

Certainly if his global superstar stays in the ascendancy, who could possibly outshine him?

Footballers like George Best and Lionel Messi have been worshipped by millions but there are boundaries to their popularity and fame because there are swathes of the world — notably America — where soccer has never been popular.

However, such is the explosion in interest in golf in places like the Middle East and the Far East that there’s no limit to the potential for growth of the game.

But friends of Rory McIlroy insist he’s not driven by money: “He already has millions in the bank,” said one man who knows him. “He doesn’t have to worry about money. The millions he’s won in prizes are dwarfed by sponsorship and endorsement deals. Obviously he enjoys the trappings of his wealth but he genuinely wants to improve his golf.”

The brilliance of Rory’s game in Florida, beating off the challenge of a rejuvenated Tiger Woods, was matched and perhaps surpassed by his maturity at the microphone afterwards as he curbed his natural excitement at winning to talk of the importance of golf with its contributions to charity.

Just under a year ago he made his first official humanitarian trip to Haiti as a Unicef Ireland ambassador. The reality of his visit was that many of the people he saw didn’t have any idea who he was.

But his surge to the top of his game in the last nine months has ensured that a lack of recognition will probably never be a factor in his life again. Surveys have repeatedly shown that Muhammad Ali is the most famous man on the planet, with Michael Jackson a close second.

But marketing experts predict his face will be instantly recognisable in every corner of the developed world.

Just weeks ago he went with a group of friends to the Dundonald Omniplex, to see the film Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Outings like that might become impossible in years to come, though pals say they can’t imagine him getting too big for his boots.

Next time, for peace and quiet, he might just have to buy the cinema and not just the ticket.

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