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McIlroy’s eye of the Tiger rocking world

By Jack Magowan

It was time for Rory McIlroy to add maturity to his gifted armoury, and he didn't disappoint.

Pressure will always tell the truth about your golf game, and few 19-year-olds have faced up to, and survived, greater last-hole pressures than young Rory did in Dubai. Here was a boy among men, "showing us men how to play," as Tom Watson once said of Tiger Woods after a runaway victory in the US Masters.

Nobody knows Woods better than his guardian angel of old, Mark O'Meara. For the veteran American, a double majors' winner, to say that McIlroy was better than Woods at 19 came entirely out of the blue, and added lustre to the teenager's burgeoning talent.

"In terms of ball-striking and technique, Rory is better than Tiger was at the same age," declared O'Meara after watching Holywood's young pin-up boy close-up. "Tiger developed his swing and made changes for better distance control, but Rory is already doing that. Granted, people are expecting a lot of him, but

there's no reason why he can't win again, and again. The lad's got it!"

Now in only his second season on tour, but already a millionaire and big gallery favourite, no career burns brighter than McIlroy's.

"It's nice to be compared to the Tiger, my schoolboy idol," grins Rory. "Remember how great he was as a 20-year-old .... twice a tournament winner in his first year as a professional, then Masters' champion by a record-breaking 12-shot margin only six months later. Any golfer mentioned in the same breath as Woods must feel a little flattered."

For McIlroy, the glamour and excitement of a much-looked-forward-to Augusta baptism is only two months away, not as the youngest player in this elite field --- that distinction belongs to 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, from Japan --- but as the lad American fans already know as "Ireland's wonder-kid with the toothy grin, curly hair, and white-hot putter."

The charm and energy Rory displayed as a medal-winning amateur in that Carnoustie Open of two seasons ago is still his calling card, and he plays it face up.

"Rory is everybody's friend," says Ireland's all-time great, Padraig Harrington. "He has the right attitude and is super confident, but modest about it. Dubai was his first bull's eye, and there'll be quite a few more. There can't be many young golfers who wouldn't like to be in his shoes right now."

To which Bob Torrance, Harrington's coach, added: "Rory has a near-flawless technique, a syrupy rhythm to a swing that flows naturally. I don't see any weaknesses. Michael Bannon is the guy he listens to most, and does a great job with him."

Gerry McIlroy, the Clandeboye club's bar manager, is the biggest influence in his son's life. Fame,

wealth and adulation may all prove a distraction, but, with Gerry's help, Rory's feet will remain firmly on the ground. His No 1 aim has always been to enjoy the game, and keep improving, since the enjoyment tends to lessen, and the improvement gets harder and harder.

His BMW, complete with personalised numberplates, is a luxury he can now afford, and so was the house he bought last summer not far from his parents' Holywood home.

After losing out twice in tour play-offs, and an impressive run of nine top-10 finishes in thirteen events, victory in Dubai was always in the wind and worth a staggering pay-cheque of £320,000. This elevated his prize-winnings for the new season to over £600,000, but it's a leap up to 14th in the world rankings that brings a smile to that tanned face.

McIlroy is not blowing smoke when he says he wants to be the best, and play in next year's Ryder Cup at Newport. By then, he'll be 21 and a bit, a legend in the making poised to take his place among Ireland's other Cup legends, |O'Connor Senr, Daly, Clarke and Harrington among them.

The world is Rory's oyster!

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