Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Rory McIlroy up there with Northern Ireland's Best

Belfast boy: George Best is the most heralded Northern Ireland sports star... but Rory McIlroy can close in
Belfast boy: George Best is the most heralded Northern Ireland sports star... but Rory McIlroy can close in
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is up there with the greats now and not just in golfing terms. Already a true life Holywood hero, McIlroy's Open Championship victory at the age of 25 has taken him to a whole new level amongst Northern Ireland's sporting elite.

You think of sporting superstars from this little corner of the world and iconic, never to be forgotten figures such as George Best, Pat Jennings, Harry Gregg, Dame Mary Peters, Willie John McBride, Jack Kyle, Mike Gibson, Barry McGuigan, Alex Higgins, Fred Daly and Joey Dunlop spring to mind.

Of those competing today, Tony McCoy has legendary status and given their major success Rory's fellow golfers Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell are in that bracket too.

Boxer Carl Frampton has what it takes to join them.

Our wee country. Not bad, eh?

McIlroy, though, is on course to surpass them all, even Bestie, who remains the most celebrated sports star from Northern Ireland.

George's career and life was too short, though he sure crammed a lot in, scoring all those glorious goals, winning all those medals with Manchester United, making a mug out of England World Cup winner Gordon Banks and the entire Scotland team at Windsor Park and bewitching and bewildering that famous 'Total Football' Dutch side, Johan Cruyff included, during one epic performance in Rotterdam.

We marvelled at his exploits (let's be honest, on and off the pitch), yet there was always that feeling with the Belfast boy that he could have produced so much more.

That won't happen with Rory.

Like Best, we've been aware of McIlroy since he was a teenager with his prodigious talent and natural ability.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy celebrates winning the 2014 Open Championship with his mum at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy celebrates winning the 2014 Open Championship with his mum at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy kisses the Claret Jug after winning the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy kisses the Claret Jug after winning the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake.
Rory McIlroy wins the British Open at Hoylake, Liverpool and the members at Holywood Golf Club celebrate.
Rory McIlroy wins the British Open at Hoylake, Liverpool and the members at Holywood Golf Club celebrate.

If George was born to have a football at his feet, Rory was put on this earth to have a golf club in his hands.

Ultimately George's demons beat him as he found his problems with alcohol insurmountable.

Rory, though, is a young man who at this moment in time appears to have all the solutions at his fingertips.

It was at the Open last year that he said he felt 'brain dead' on the golf course... a frank admission from a player who, bear in mind, had won two majors up to that point – the US Open in 2011 and the 2012 US PGA Championship.

Well documented splits from his management company and bride to be followed in the next 10 months.

Possibly not since Bestie himself has a Northern Ireland sports star's love life been the subject of so much attention.

Rory's relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki was scrutinised from head to high heel.

Even when it ended in May the announcement became the subject of more debate than Rory's swing or putting stroke.

McIlroy was criticised in some quarters for calling off the engagement so abruptly, but surely that was the right decision rather than go ahead with a marriage beset by doubts right from the first 'I do'.

Rory's first tournament post break-up saw him win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and at the weekend he won the Open, so the split certainly hasn't harmed his golf game.

Truth be told, it has helped him and perhaps even Caroline, who won her first title of the year on Sunday.

At Royal Liverpool, where Rory was playfully booed by the galleries when in his acceptance speech he talked about being a Manchester United supporter, the only woman that seemed to matter to him was his mum.

The embrace between mother and son on the 18th green was genuinely touching. It was the first time Rosie had been on the course to see her boy win a major title. Just a normal mum, proud of her child doing ever so well.

Dad Gerry was there too, beaming from ear to ear along with Rory's mates from home, heartily hugging their pal, congratulating him on his latest and greatest success to date.

The strong bond McIlroy has with family and friends will sustain him for the challenges and demands ahead.

It was the end of an aura for Tiger Woods some time ago.

McIlroy's the major player now and he won't stop at three.

In the not too distant future he will be wearing a green jacket after Masters success to complete the Grand Slam and from Augusta the big tournament wins will just keep on coming as Rory's legacy and legend continues to grow.

Seve won five majors, Sir Nick Faldo six, Arnold Palmer seven, Tom Watson eight and Gary Player and Ben Hogan nine.

Over the next decade in his prime years as a golf professional, McIlroy's awesome ability and now a temperament to match will trump them all as he reaches double figures.

Once there, we'll assess if Walter Hagen (11), Woods (14) and Jack Nicklaus (18) can be overtaken too.

For now salute and enjoy Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland's best.

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