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Why Rory McIlroy's 'one off' course record at Royal Portrush will never be beaten, explains former holder Evans

 

Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

One round at Royal Portrush and absolutely everything can change.

For the visitors that travel across the globe to grace the famous Dunluce Links every year, it can be the moment of their golfing life.

In the annual North of Ireland Amateur Championship, one experience, positive or negative, can influence an entire career.

And occasionally, when the golfing moons align, a single round can remodel the landscape forever.

The last such eruption arrived on July 5, 2005 and caused a tectonic shift that sent shockwaves through the sporting world.

It's said that the ripples will never stop; that the golfing plates will never settle back into the familiar places in which they had previously rested.

It was the day a cocksure 16-year-old brought the old course to its knees.

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'A one off,' says Moyola Park's Randal Evans, whose previous course record 64 was made to look normal in comparison.

Rory McIlroy: 61.

The impossible made possible.

His round was the talk of the sport, from the throngs of local fans who had surrounded the 18th green, right to the top of the game, as McIlroy's record was on the tips of wagging tongues at the following week's Open Championship.

These days, the sands have shifted, with two new holes carved out between the dunes.

But that, says Evans, should only be a postscript to the truth of the matter; we’ll never see another 61.

"The course has changed but even if it had stayed the same, 61 round there? My goodness," he says with evident disbelief, as if the previous 14 years would still make more sense had they been revealed as a work of fiction.

"It won't be beaten."

It had taken Evans long enough to break the previous record, a 65 by a certain Padraig Harrington. Both had slogged for years, getting to know every inch of the historic links before finally escaping its claws.

"After I eagled the 10th, a crowd started to follow me round," recalls Evans, describing a scene that would be repeated three years later with McIlroy standing in as the star of the show.

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In line: Randal Evans lost his course record to a young Rory McIlroy

"I got the birdies that I needed on the 13th and the 17th. Then I was standing on the 18th tee and Brendan Edwards, who was the GUI Ulster Branch secretary at the time, said to me; 'You just need a par for the course record, Randal.'

"It wasn't exactly what I needed to hear," he laughs. "There were desperate nerves."

The record seemed rather less of a struggle for a teenage McIlroy who, nine under through 16, has admitted he could ‘enjoy’ the final two holes before completing a blemish-free 61, eleven under par, back home in 28.

As fate would have it, Evans was playing in the fourball behind, a front row seat to watch his hard work ruthlessly picked apart by a boy wonder.

"His dad Gerry kept coming back to keep me updated on how Rory was doing," Evans laughs. "I was on the 17th green and Rory walked past up the 18th so I said good luck to him then.

"At that time, you had to hand the scorecards in at the Valley so after he finished out for the 61, he walked back past me on the 18th and gave me a high five. It was nice to be able to congratulate him."

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Rory McIlroy

 

McIlroy actually made the turn one shot worse off than Evans at three under. Matching the eagle on the 10th, however, kick-started a closing nine that provided the new, perhaps unmatchable, benchmark for golf at Portrush.

A birdie at 11, two pars and then a, frankly, ridiculous finish of five straight birdies.

"He's a one off," says Evans. "We all used to look to Garth McGimpsey - who won 14 major amateur titles and played over 200 times for Ireland - and copy what he was doing but Rory changed all that. He changed everything."

McIlroy will be back at the scene next week, looking to once again send shockwaves through the golfing world by winning the Open Championship.

The question is, will the golfing moons align for another seismic shift when Rory steps onto the lush grass at Royal Portrush?

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