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Rory McIlroy's freak accident is price star pays for his down-to-earth ways and who would want to change him?

By Deric Henderson

On Monday of last week Rory McIlroy and his close friend Harry Diamond and another pal played a practice round at Royal Portrush, and according to unconfirmed reports, this is how his scoring started: 3,3,1.

So by the time he reached the difficult 4th hole named in honour of Northern Ireland's first ever Open Champion, the late, great Fred Daly, (Royal Liverpool, 1947), the world's No1 was already five shots under par.

Four visiting Americans, all wealthy businessmen, who were following him couldn't believe their luck or indeed their eyes, and after he finished, McIlroy posed for photographs and signed autographs and thanked the office staff for allowing him the courtesy of the course as part of his preparations for this week's Scottish Open.

No fuss. No drama.

But as he headed back towards Belfast, those four men, who each paid £160 for their game, plus another £80 each for the caddies, couldn't wait to return home to New York to tell their colleagues in Wall St this amazing story about who they met that glorious sunny afternoon on the North Coast.

There were fewer than a dozen or so spectators who had gathered when McIlroy eventually walked off the 18th green. Most of them only became aware he was out on the links as he walked up the 10th. But someone who witnessed the comings and goings outside the clubhouse told me: "Those Americans. You'd have thought they had just bumped into Obama. They were completely awestruck, like group of kids. They went completely weak at the knees."

That's the sort impact McIlroy can have. His electrifying presence generates more power than Ballylumford.

Which is why his absence at next week's Open Championship at St Andrews is all the more profound.

All right, he hasn't completely ruled himself out teeing up to defend his title, and all the necessary arrangements for him to stay at the home of golf remain in place, but the chances of him packing away his clubs and catching the ferry to Scotland must be extremely remote. The ruptured ligaments in his left ankle is on the side which takes all the weight when he strikes the ball and then follows through with that wonderful and unmistakable swing of his.

Surely you can't be hobbling around on crutches one week, and then reach into the bag for the driver the next?

It's such a huge disappointment, not just for the R&A, the game's ruling body who host this tournament, but for the thousands of fans preparing to head to St Andrews, and especially the contingents from this side of the Irish Sea who still haven't got over him failing to make the cut, and the final two days at the Irish Open at Newcastle last month.

It was a great tournament played at times in dreadful weather, set up brilliantly by the good men of Royal County Down, but hands up all those who remember the player who won it? The levels of excitement outside the fairway ropes dropped like a stone with McIlroy's unexpected early exit and all the anticipated hype next week will not disguise the feelings of dismay and disillusionment that he won't be there.

Tiger Woods was once the blue-eyed boy, but McIlroy in full flight is the one they all want to come and see.

No doubt there will be inevitable questions about the wisdom of McIlroy having a kickabout with his friends ahead of such an important fortnight and the likely consequences this freak accident will have on the rest of his season, including his defence of the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in mid-August.

But that's Rory. Rory of the free spirit, and given the pleasure and joy he brings to so many lives who would want him to change the way and manner he goes about his business and conducts himself on and off the course?

  • Deric Henderson is the former Ireland Editor of the Press Association, the national news agency for the UK and Ireland, who now runs a media consultancy business, Deric Henderson Media

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