Golf’s newest legend touched down on home soil last night clutching the trophy he deserved so much for his historic US Open win.
Rory McIlory flew into George Best Belfast City Airport shortly before 8pm, stopping just long enough to pose for some photographs with the coveted cup.
Belfast’s iconic Harland and Wolff cranes watched on in silent tribute in the background before the champion was whisked away in a car to his mansion on the Co Down coast.
After the frenzy that has surrounded Rory since his weekend win, it was perhaps no surprise that he declined to speak to the media.
Some went as far as following him to the gates of his Holywood home, but the closed mansion gates signalled that this was a time for some private celebration.
Nevertheless, McIlroy didn’t disappoint his fans, as he told his 426,737 followers on Twitter — a mere 30,000 more than he had on Monday — that it was “great to be back home”.
“Even nicer to have this on my kitchen table!!” he added, a reference to the photo he had just posted of the impressive trophy taking pride of place in his kitchen.
The modest star added: “And for anyone who's interested, there'll be no open-top bus parade in Belfast! I’m a golfer not a football team!”
Down in McIlroy’s usual watering-hole at Holywood Golf Club friends of the local hero said such an ostentatious homecoming was not his style.
They said the “down-to-earth” star would prefer a quiet drink with friends to celebrate.
Honorary secretary of the club Martin Gunning said Rory’s achievement was “really sensational”.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “We’re sitting here, and to think this small club in Holywood has produced this young guy and now he’s top of the world.
“We are just so proud of him.”
Club member Brian Murray added that Rory’s success was “fantastic”.
“I think it will be very good publicity for this club and for people coming to Northern Ireland,” he said.
“We’re certainly hopeful a lot of Americans and other tourists will come to visit here and come to walk the fairways which Rory walked.”
Earlier, as he landed in London’s Heathrow Airport yesterday morning, the 22-year-old revealed he would be taking a three-week break.
After the transatlantic flight he said: “It feels good, it feels great. It's nice to be able to call myself a Major champion. I’ve got three weeks off and then the British Open, so I want to take it easy and let it sink in.”
Before flying back to Belfast he had travelled to Birmingham to record a game show with Ant and Dec.
And following his success, golfing icon Jack Nicklaus — who was less than five months older than Rory when he won the first Major title — offered him advice about coping with celebrity. In this day and age, it's very difficult,” he said. “He needs to make certain golf is the first thing, as well as his motivation and desire to be great.
“My motivation was that I wanted to be the best I could be in the sport, and once I got close to Bob Jones's record, that became a motivation.
“I think Rory has got his head screwed on pretty well and I think he'll keep it there. It was obviously an unbelievable performance.”
Sports journalist Nigel Ringland, who has known Rory since he was a teen, believes he has the “right people around him”. “I’ve known Rory since he was 16. He is an incredibly grounded young man,” he said.
“He has a lot of good people around him. What he has achieved really is spectacular, but he has his friends, family and still likes watching a rugby match at Ravenhill on a Friday night, and his dogs.”
John Stevenson, the recently retired principal of Sullivan Upper where Rory studied, said: “There's a huge level of expectation there, and that's big for anybody.
“But I can honestly say, you know, that if anyone is capable of handling that, Rory's the guy because he's been working toward this since he was a very young boy.”