Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Dad Gerry on jackpot if Rory lands Open

One or two eyebrows might have arched a few years back when Gerry McIlroy and three pals pitched in £100 each and backed his son Rory, then just 15, at odds of 500/1 to win the Claret Jug before he's 25.

Now, it's beginning to look like the bet of the century.

As Sunday's spectacular first victory on Tour sparks ever more favourable comparisons to Tiger Woods, McIlroy is currently rated by bookmakers as a 7/4 shot to win one of golf's Grand Slam championships before turning 25 in May 2014.

He's even being quoted at ludicrously short odds of 7/1 to come up trumps in a Major this year.

The bookmaker in question was lucky he limited the Holywood syndicate to £400, though he still stands to lose £200,000 if McIlroy fulfils widespread expectations at The Open inside the next five years.

The youngster's wonderful up-and-down from a bunker behind 18 at The Emirates Club on Sunday was reminiscent of the critical chip-and-putt which kept Padraig Harrington's Open hopes alive at Carnoustie two years ago.

Executing a masterstroke under such intense pressure is of major significance to McIlroy.

He will draw great confidence from this one-stoke victory over a world-class field in Dubai.

Yet even as he soared 23 places to 16th in the world yesterday, the highest ranking ever attained by a player his age, McIlroy remained calm amid all the hyperbole and flatly dismissed suggestions he might now be targeting the Majors.

"I've only played in one Major," he said yesterday as he and his parents were whisked by car away from the chaos of snow-bound Heathrow to Manchester to try and catch a flight home to Belfast.

"I mean, I've just won my first event and it's great, but I have still got a long way to go," added Rory, who's just as level-headed in dealing with comparisons between himself and Woods, a player he's idolised since age six.

"I don't think anyone can be compared to Tiger," he said. "I'll never be able to do what he has done for golf. Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to win Majors – what's he done, 14 of them? Well, I just hope to keep getting better and better and trying to win golf tournaments. If I can do that, I'll be happy.

"Tiger's been a role model to me, someone I've always looked up to, and even though he's one of my competitors now, an opponent, he's still one of my heroes."

McIlroy (pictured) is so mature, the transition from fan to friendly rival comes easy.

"I think it's something you grow into," he explained. "Honestly, growing up with Darren Clarke has helped. He was someone I looked up to when I was younger but through playing with him out on Tour, we've become friends. It has just progressed into a nice relationship."

After playing 36 holes with the Irish youngster in Dubai, Mark O'Meara rated him a better ball-striker than Tiger at age 19, a suggestion wittily endorsed by Eamonn Darcy.

"Rory doesn't have a game like Tiger. He looks more like a young Jack Nicklaus to me. Tiger is like Palmer in his heyday, he hits it all over the place," explained Darcy, a Desert Classic winner himself.

"Nicklaus was relentless in how close he hit it to the flag and in the birdies he made. He wasn't chopping it out of trouble and it's the same with Rory. He won't get as many grey hairs as Tiger!"

Yet Woods is the greatest finisher in history, setting a standard to which McIlroy aspires. This applies especially to putting, a part of his game that the Holywood teenager reckons has improved a great deal under Harrington's guru, Dr Paul Hurrion, and which he rates as a key factor behind his recent impressive results.

It will be interesting to see how he fares on his first foray on the PGA Tour's slick, quick greens as McIlroy warms up for The Masters at The Accenture Match Play (February 26-March 1), the Honda Classic (March 5-8), the CA Championship in Doral (March 12-15) and the Houston Open (April 2-5).

Wisely, McIlroy has lined up a practice round with O'Meara at Augusta and, if it is early enough, Tiger might even join them.

With Ernie Els also on his 'dance card' at Augusta, McIlroy won't be short of guidance. He has got a lot to learn before being ranked among the leading contenders at the Majors.

Perhaps the 2010 Open at St Andrews, one of his favourite haunts, will give dad Gerry and the Holywood syndicate a first realistic chance of hitting the jackpot!

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