Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Rory McIlroy's master plan - he's chasing Scott's green jacket

Tight finish: Rory McIlroy is congratulated by Adam Scott, the man he pipped to the Australian Open crown on Sunday

NOWHERE is 'The Sound of Silence' more imposing than in a jam-packed sports arena. We Irish heard it at Lansdowne Road last Sunday week when All Black kicker Aaron Cruden delivered the coup de grace to our rugby dreams.

So we know precisely how Australia felt when Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at the death in Royal Sydney on Sunday to deny their new golfing icon, Adam Scott, a rare Aussie 'triple crown'.

The hush which descends for a putt in golf or a rugby conversion can be oppressive, but when thousands are then struck dumb by the desolation of sudden defeat, it lends new meaning to the term 'deafening silence'.

As the muted crowds melted away from that final green at the Australian Open, the mood in the TV commentary booth was almost funereal. They had come to praise Scott, but McIlroy buried him.

Along with a lot of Aussie hearts, McIlroy shattered his own 12-month drought at Royal Sydney, so it won't be surprising in the least if he eclipses tournament host Tiger Woods and defending champion Graeme McDowell in this week's Northwestern Mutual Challenge at Sherwood Country Club.

Having said goodbye to darkness, which hung around like an old friend all year, McIlroy has carte blanche to become a real world-beater once again.

With apologies to Scott, who has achieved near-Greg Norman status in his homeland since breaking Australia's jinx at this year's US Masters, McIlroy is perfectly equipped to take that Green Jacket off his back at Augusta next April.

Aussie pros rate Rory as Tiger's hottest rival. Even before he won in Sydney, seasoned golf observers still viewed Rory McIlroy as the outstanding threat by far to Tiger's status as world No 1.

McIlroy has been striping his golf ball for the past couple of months, so it was only a matter of time and a few favourable results before the 24-year-old's confidence, badly drained during a dismal season, would be fully replenished.

It was interesting to listen to a radio blog recorded Down Under last week in which Mike Clayton, a noted Aussie pro turned pundit, course designer and coach, spoke of walking 12 holes with McIlroy in practice.

Clayton (56) was carrying the bag of Australian prodigy Ryan Ruffels (15), who got the chance to play with Holywood's world No 6 through Nike.

Yet the older man was blown away by the quality of McIlroy's golf.

"I hadn't seen Rory play for a long time; I mean the fact that he hasn't won a tournament this year is pretty amazing," Clayton enthused.

"If the evidence of the 12 holes of ball-striking I saw is the measure of how he's playing, he's just a beautiful player. He's long and he hits beautiful iron shots. He hit some great short shots too.

"He hit it over the back of the sixth and Ryan said, 'you don't want to hit it in there'. But Rory landed his ball in the fringe, it ran down, hit the hole and jumped out. The seventh hole is a former long par-five, probably the best par-five (at Royal Sydney) and he just murdered it with a 360-yard drive and a five-iron.

"I met Geoff Ogilvy later and I said, 'wow, I just saw McIlroy play'. I know Geoff can exaggerate a little at times but he said, 'yeah, (Rory is) way better than Scottie'.

"Everyone knows Adam plays great golf, but Geoff is just huge on McIlroy and he said this kid's amazing.

"So (Rory has) had a lousy year and, in a sense, has fumbled through the issues with the management company, Oakley sunglasses and changing his clubs, but I can't imagine him not having a great year next year."

Meanwhile, former US Open champion and Ryder Cup winner Graeme McDowell will help lead Team Europe's challenge at next year's inaugural EurAsia Cup in Malaysia.

After being unveiled as the European captain at a press conference in Hong Kong, Miguel Angel Jimenez announced the first four automatic qualifiers for his 10-man team, with McDowell being joined by Wales' Jamie Donaldson, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

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