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'Two guys from Holywood did this': Rory McIlroy toasts caddy Harry Diamond after pair hit world number one together

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Rory McIlroy and caddy Harry Diamond

Rory McIlroy and caddy Harry Diamond

Getty Images

Rory McIlroy and caddy Harry Diamond

From getting turfed out of a pub with a fake ID to turning up as defending champion and world number one; Rory McIlroy's 11 year history with The Players' Championship is an interesting one.

The 30-year-old is this week aiming to become the first player to retain the unofficial 'fifth major' at Sawgrass.

Last year, McIlroy won the title for the first time - a fitting way to mark the 10-year anniversary of his rather more ill-fated debut.

Back in 2009, a 19-year-old McIlroy was to miss the cut by seven shots and didn't have much success in letting his hair down afterwards either.

"The weekend before I was in Vegas for a fight and then probably didn't prepare the best way possible," he smiled at Tuesday's press conference. "I missed the cut and ended up getting kicked out of bars in Jax Beach for having a fake ID. So I've come a long way."

All the way, once again, to the top of the world golf rankings.

McIlroy is now one of only three players, behind Tiger Woods and Greg Norman, to spend over 100 weeks at the summit, where he returned last month for the first time in over five years.

It was the first time he had reached the landmark in partnership with best friend and caddie Harry Diamond.

The Belvoir Park amateur star took over the bag in August 2017 after McIlroy's split with long-term bagman JP Fitzgerald.

Interesting, McIlroy's PGA Tour win percentage is virtually unchanged across his two caddies - 10.4% alongside Fitzgerald and 10.42% with Diamond.

While some supporters occasionally point to a perceived need for McIlroy to appoint an 'established' caddy, the man himself has repeatedly signalled his intention to stick with his current man.

So it was little surprise when he said his return to the top of the world rankings meant most in regards to his current partnership.

"There wasn't much of a fanfare," he said of leapfrogging Brooks Koepka after a week in which he hadn't even played. "I got there through a mathematical algorithm more than anything else, but I still made sure to celebrate the milestone.

"I went out and made sure to have a couple of drinks with Harry and a couple of my friends. Basically we've been on that journey together from injuries and not playing my best all the way back to the top of the world.

"So it was important for me to sit down and have a few drinks with him (Harry) and be like, you know, we've done this.

"This was our journey and we did it, two guys that grew up in Holywood, Northern Ireland, playing golf together, and that we've done this is something that was really cool."

McIlroy and Diamond are currently on a run of seven consecutive top five finishes, dating back to October.

The consistency is another mark of that growing maturity, as is McIlroy's newfound role as a vocal spokesperson for the professional game.

Recently, he was the first high-profile player to speak out against the Premier Golf League proposals.

"I think just because I've learnt over the last few years that you're not going to please everyone," he mused at Wednesday's press conference at Sawgrass. "Not everyone is going to like you. I think as you grow up - I certainly had an ambition or you try to do things for people - but I just basically learned no matter what you do, there are some people that are going to like you and appreciate what you do, and there are some people that you just won't be able to please.

"I think at this point I think I have somewhat of a responsibility, not just for myself but for the other players.

"I'm a lot more comfortable in my own skin and in my own beliefs and values and convictions. I have been outspoken about a number of issues in golf over the past couple years, and I'm happy about that. I'm not trying to set some sort of example, but I want to be a voice out there that can at least put forth some good commentary and a decent opinion on things."

McIlroy tees off at 5.51pm GMT on Thursday in round one of the The Players' championship. He's playing in one of the feature groups alongside the world's second and third ranked players Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka.

Graeme McDowell is playing with Chez Reavie and Daniel Berger and tees off at 12.35pm GMT.

Belfast Telegraph