Rory McIlroy has long been hailed as the next Tiger Woods and Northern Ireland's golf prodigy doesn't mind the comparison — despite his hero's recent fall from grace in a storm of sex scandals.
The young Co Down man was speaking for the first time about the controversial golfer and he says he is looking forward to shaking his hand at the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, next month.
“I'm delighted Tiger is back and playing at the Masters. All I am going to judge him on is his golf game, nothing else,” he said. “I'm looking forward to shaking his hand when I see him. The tour would never be as good without him so I'm thrilled he's back.”
The 20-year-old golfing sensation described how he was taken aback at how fame can have a crippling effect on such a talented star.
“It's scary to see the pressure and level of fame that follows him everywhere. In a way he is a victim of his own success. But one thing you can't take away from him is when he hits the golf course he always turns it on.”
McIlroy ended his first appearance at the Masters last year by playing the last 10 holes in six under par, sending a flurry of excitement through the golfing world at a talent many believe will take him to the world number one spot.
He described his excitement at participating in the upcoming tournament, saying: “It's my favourite event of the year.
“The course, the club, the crowd, the whole thing, it's completely different to any other golf tournament in the world. It's incredible.
“I think I have a good chance this year. I've been preparing back home in Bangor. It would be my wildest dream come true to win but it's also the toughest tournament in the world.”
Speaking of his personal life, the rising star said his mind is focused only on birdies on the green, and he has no interest in settling down just yet with girlfriend Holly Sweeney.
The long-term couple were seen out in Belfast on Friday night celebrating the Fate Awards with a host of well-known faces at Europa Hotel. Both former pupils of Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, the pair met at Holywood Golf Club in August 2005.
“I'm in no rush to settle down and get married,” he said, despite his long-term relationship.
“Golf is the main thing in my life at the minute. I have worked so hard to get where I am, I have to give it everything for the next few years. Success on the course hasn't changed me, I'm still the same guy with the same friends from back home.”
McIlroy is being tipped to fill the gap in the market left by Woods following his well-documented transgressions. With the American's troubles continuing to grab headlines, the lucrative world of golf is in need of a new clean-cut hero.
High-profile PR guru Max Clifford has said that, if McIlroy's image is marketed correctly, he could be set to make millions in advertising and commercial contracts.
“Golf desperately needs a new star,” he said. “And the timing is perfect for the young lad.
“He needs to build up his profile on and off the golf course, be seen at the right events, give out the right image and get the best coverage he can.
“If he plays his cards right the sponsorship deals should flood in. Having a stunning girlfriend on your arm always helps, of course.”
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