Fairway to heaven: Rory McIlroy scores his first pro victory at 19
... and pockets a cheque for €320,000
Northern Ireland's teenage golf sensation Rory McIlroy has clinched his first professional victory.
The pint-sized putter from Holywood, County Down, secured a nervy victory at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Proud parents Gerry and Rosie ran to congratulate their son seconds after he showed maturity and composure far beyond his 19 years to slot home the winning putt.
But McIlroy made hard work of his maiden victory. He had earlier led the competition by six strokes but three consecutive bogeys allowed Englishman Justin Rose to claw his way back into contention. Rose narrowly missed a birdie putt to force a play-off on the final hole, with McIlroy saving par to win by one stroke.
McIlroy is the seventh youngest winner in European Tour history and the victory lifts him to 14th in the world rankings.
The teenager turned pro in 2007 and previously came close to victory in the European Masters and this season's Hong Kong Open, only to crash out of both at the play-off stage.
McIlroy admitted he was relieved to get a first professional win under his belt.
“This is my first win and it was really hard,” said McIlroy.
“It has taken a monkey off my back having lost in the play-offs.
“I got myself into a great position at the middle of the back nine, let a few shots slip when Justin birdied a couple of them.
“I fought back and it is nice to hold it together on the last with a great up-and-down for the victory.”
McIlroy's victory comes just days after Tiger Woods' former coach, Butch Harmon, singled him out as one of the main challengers to the golf legend's number one sitting in the sport.
Meanwhile, Tony McCoy will have to wait a little bit longer for his 3,000th national hunt winner after failing to clinch top spot at Fontwell yesterday.
Day of frayed nerves for family
Family and friends celebrate at Holywood Golf Club alan Lewis
By Brian Rowan
His nerves are “shattered” — but his wallet is better.
Colm McIlroy, the Holywood Golf Club Champion, is Rory’s uncle. And his nephew’s golfing win in the Dubai Desert Classic meant a payday for both.
Rory’s winners cheque was more than €320,000, moving him to second place on the European Tour money list.
Colm, with a £50 bet placed on odds of 28/1, picked up £1,400.
“I sent him (Rory) a text congratulating him and saying it was never in doubt with a couple of exclamation marks after it,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
It was a happy end to a morning and early afternoon filled with all the drama, nerves and tension that comes with Rory McIlroy’s walk through this game of golf.
A one-time six-shot lead had been reduced to just one as he played the final hole — and he needed something special from the bunker to prevent closest challenger, Justin Rose, from blooming on that last green.
“If he didn’t catch it right, it was in the water,” his uncle Colm said, “and he dropped it on a sixpence. Unbelievable.
“We are so proud of him.”
Proud, but his nerves were frayed.
Colm watched the day unfold in the company of friends and family, including his brother Brian.
“I have never gone through as many peaks and troughs in all my life — it was helter-skelter,” he said.
It means another action-packed chapter in the McIlroy golf story, it is a confirmation of where he is going in the game, and it makes you wonder about what is next.
At just 19 years of age he seems to have this game in his hands and in his head.
A few years ago he told this newspaper he wanted to be the best player of his era, and his achievement yesterday underscores that potential.
His uncle Brian hopes to get a cup of coffee and a chat with him later this week.
“We don’t talk about golf,” he said. “We’ll have a game of tennis or badminton.”
Ordinary family stuff, but Rory McIlroy has a sporting dream that looks into the highest places in his sport of pitching and putting and birdies and bogeys.