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'Elvis' McIlroy gets ready to rock Killarney

By Karl MacGinty and Peter Hutcheon

Rory McIlroy is the "Elvis Presley" of professional golf, according to European Tour Chief Executive George O'Grady.

Suspecting that Killarney could be 'all shook up' by the Holywood superstar's appearance at this summer's Irish Open, Tour officials are planning Ryder Cup-style crowd safety measures for the August Bank Holiday extravaganza.

McIlroy's recent US Open victory is just one reason why golf fans are expected to flock to the Killeen Course, with the likelihood that the 80,000-plus who attended last year's event will be exceeded.

O'Grady insists the 22-year-old will have that 'Tiger Woods effect' at the Irish Open because of his engaging personality.

"Wherever he goes in Ireland, Rory is everyone's pal," O'Grady explained. "So we'll have to introduce crowd control, a bit more like the Ryder Cup with wider walkways because you are dealing with something like the Tiger Woods effect.

"If it's all too tight, everybody will want to shake Rory's hand and he probably would shake everybody's hand ... but he's also got a championship to play.

"We'll also have to look at autograph policies and other measure to ensure Rory's comfort and safety as he plays and that of the spectators.

"This kid is a superstar. It's because of the way he conducts himself; how he responded to what happened in Augusta and how he treats people in general.

"For example, Rory must have been knackered after a day's filming with one of his sponsors at Wentworth on Monday, but still stuck his head around the door at the Tour offices, he said hello to the staff and signed autographs, chatted with the girls and happily posed for photos.

"This is Elvis Presley sort of stuff," O'Grady concluded.

Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington has tumbled down the world ladder and out of golf's elite top 50, but there's plenty of fight in the 'old' warhorse yet.

Dublin's three-times Major champion positively bristled yesterday when it was suggested during an Irish Open media conference call that he might welcome a little time in the shade cast by the US Open-winning feats of McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

"I certainly don't relish being in the shadows," retorted Harrington, leaving no doubt about his determination to show who's boss when the event returns to Killarney on July 28-31.

In the absence of a replacement for '3' as title sponsor, the Irish Open purse is slashed from £2.7m to £1.35m. Harrington dispels any suggestion of a 'War on the Lake Shore' between himself and man-of-the-moment McIlroy.

"Actually, it's hard to be a rival of Rory," he explains. "You always walk away from conversations with him thinking 'this is one nice guy.'

"He's one of the most confident people I've come across who doesn't have even a glimmer of arrogance.

"So, I hardly feel like it's a competition with Rory - or Graeme for that matter. Like most professional golfers, I'm more in competition with myself out there than anyone else."

On that score, Harrington hasn't fared well recently. In nearly three years since his back-to-back victories at the 2008 British Open and US PGA, he's won just once - an Asian Tour event in Malaysia last October.

Yet he insists just one little piece of the jigsaw is missing. "I'm not quite putting all my game together and it's not for the lack of effort, enthusiasm or diligence. I'm doing all the right things and going through the right processes, but I'm just missing that little bit."

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