Rory McIlroy put years of failure at the Irish Open behind him at the weekend, and showed his class in the finishing straight
By Phil Rice
The great Olympian Emil Zatopek once said, “An athlete can’t run with money in his pockets.
“He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.” Rory McIlroy fulfilled one of his greatest dreams when he won his home championship for the first time at the weekend, and as if to confirm Zatopek’s theory he promptly gave his winnings to charity.
McIlroy had failed to make the cut at his three previous Irish Opens and made it clear that, for him, winning the Irish Open was second only to winning a major championship.
He seemed at times to burden himself with the weight of expectation but on Sunday he produced a finish worthy of the class act we all know he is.
With three holes to go he relinquished his lead in the championship to Scotland’s Russell Knox and his home fans started to think, here we go again. But like all great champions Rory performed at his best when the pressure was at it’s most intense.
He produced two shots at the 16th and 18th holes to blow away the competition. A birdie, par, eagle finish was enough for a three shot win and ecstasy for the home fans.
As if to show how grounded he is, Rory sat in front of me at the Pro12 play-off on Friday evening, cheering for his beloved rugby team Ulster, just a few hours after completing his second round at the K Club.
On Sunday morning before his made his way to the first tee he viewed a recording of the FA Cup final and the victory for his other great sporting love, Manchester United. In a world where so much emphasis is put on focus and psychological planning, Rory is a breath of fresh air and a refreshingly human and humble champion.
The contrast between him and the total golf machine that was Tiger Woods, could not be more pronounced. The organisers of this week’s PGA Championship at Wentworth will be rueing McIlroy’s decision to bypass the European tour’s flagship event. He is not the first major champion to delete the event from their schedule.
Padraig Harrington once told me the greens at Wentworth were his least favourite on both the European and US tours and he is conspicuous by his absence again this week. However McIlroy prefers to identify the need to ensure an ideal preparation for the US Open in three weeks time.
There is still a stellar field at the Surrey event. Masters champion Danny Willett, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Lee Westwood will all be present. Many European Tour players will be desperate to acquire Ryder Cup points as the race for team selection really hots up. Irish participants will include Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Michael Hoey, David Higgins, Colm Moriarty and Eamonn Brady.
In addition to acquiring Ryder Cup points, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell are having a private battle to discover who will join Rory McIlroy as Ireland’s representatives at this year’s Olympics. Lowry is currently 36th in the World Rankings while McDowell is 70th, but a high finish this week could make all the difference for both players.
There are signs recently that McDowell is getting back to his old form and only a disappointing final round at the Irish Open, prevented him from collecting valuable ranking points.
Shane Lowry has lacked consistency recently, mixing the brilliant with the mediocre. He has good memories of the PGA Championship, in 2014 he finished second to McIlroy, shooting a first round of 64. Last year he finished sixth.
The event is a favourite with European golf supporters and is ranked second only to the British Open in importance on the European Tour.
It would be a timely opportunity for Lowry to boost his confidence with a high finish, as the golf season really gains momentum with three majors in the next two months.
Meanwhile pop star Niall Horan was turning heads on the course:
Niall at the DDF Irish Open Golf Championship Pro-Am in Dublin (18.05.16) pic.twitter.com/CLlhAnjsY7
— 1D Updates (@1DHiatusNews) May 20, 2016