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Irish Open comment: Why Rory McIlroy still captivates golf fans even when the putter goes cold

By Gareth Hanna

Rory McIlroy is a fascinating golfer to watch, whether his putter is as hot as Will Grigg or as cold as Steve Austin.

This week at Ballyliffin, it has happened to be the latter. But the crowds love him nonetheless - and here's how he has shown why again at Ballyliffin.

First of all, for raw golfing talent, he's probably the best of his generation. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson may be higher up the World Golf Rankings but when you see Rory swing a club, even the most casual golf fan can recognise the genius. His smooth swing is textbook.

Rory's tee to green game has been nothing short of a pleasure to view this week as he booms his driver 360 or 370 yards through the maze of strategically placed sand traps that is the Glashedy Links.

I've had the pleasure of walking with the Holywood golfer inside the ropes and have been at close quarters to hear the swoosh of the club and the fizz of the ball as he crushes his baby-draws down the infamously narrow fairways. It's been all but flawless and we fellow golfers are transfixed by it.

He knows how to craft an approach into a links course green too. He always has done - as he demonstrated when he was just 16 years old, bullying Royal Portrush's Dunluce course with a course record 61.

He has shown that time and again this week, dropping the ball effortlessly close to the pin or bumping it low up the fairway with a similar result.

But if that is the awe-inspiring side to Rory McIlroy, there's much more to the man that encourages affection.

That's no real secret but it's only at close quarters that you can appreciate how the little lad from County Down is really still the same as he always was.

Rory takes time with the fans, signing any number of caps and programmes thrust in his face (even on a disappointing day). That means a lot - it's largely why the incredibly patient Padraig Harrington was my boyhood hero.

If that gets the kids on-side, us older folk can appreciate Rory's character too.

Even when the golfing gods are testing him to his limit with the most frustrating week imaginable, Rory maintains his calm demeanor, barring a fully warranted 'HIT IT' when another putt comes up short or the odd shout of exasperation at the shifting galleries. It's a challenge to an average club golfer like me.

But that's a point that brings me neatly on to a separate brief one I would like to humbly make to the fans at Ballyliffin: Keep still!

A few times this week Rory and players around him have become understandably frustrated as fans scramble to get a glimpse of the main man, often while the others are trying to hit their shots.

I know it's easy to get wrapped up in the Rory Show but keep an eye on all the players and enjoying watching every shot. The other lads are good to watch too, you know.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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