STAR: Rory could be on course to make a billion
RORY McIlroy has fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming the world's number one golfer -- two months shy of his 23rd birthday.
McIlroy is on course to emulate Tiger Woods by becoming the next golfing billionaire after victory at the Honda Classic in Florida late last night.
After earning €10m in prize-money and endorsements last year, the 22-year-old's money-making potential is set to to sky rocket after officially becoming the world's best golfer.
"If he keeps dominating golf for a number of years he could easily get up towards a billion," said Nigel Currie, of sports agency Brand Rapport.
"Rory McIlroy has the potential to do what Federer, Schumacher and Woods have done.
"Golf, motor-racing and tennis are the big earning sports and if he was to dominate golf for a number of years, he could get towards the one billion mark."
McIlroy's long list of lucrative brands include Dubai's Jumeirah Hotel and Resort Group, Titleist golf equipment, EA Sports computer games, Footjoy golf shoes, Oakley clothing, Lough Erne Resort and Audemars Piguet watches, but this list looks set to grow and grow.
His youthful charm, outgoing nature and squeaky-clean, boy-next-door image has caught the eye of American audiences and has made him a marketing dream.
With the Masters in Augusta just weeks away, if McIlroy can triumph in Georgia, the scene of his final round capitulation last year, he will send his earning potential into the stratosphere.
Beaming after his victory in the Honda Classic in Florida yesterday, the Co Down native admitted that he had just realised a life-long dream to become Ireland's first rankings leader.
"It's very special," he said. "When I was 10 or 11, I was interviewed and said I wanted to be the best player in the world and I wanted to win majors."
The historic victory was made all the sweeter by the fact that he had to hold off a late charge from Tiger Woods to claim his place at the summit of world golf. "It was a lot more meaningful the way I won today," McIlroy said. "I always felt like when I played my best, I would be hard to beat. I feel like I've always been a pretty confident guy. But I think I've got a lot more belief in myself now when I'm going down the stretch. I definitely don't doubt myself as much as I used to."
At roughly the same time, McIlroy was carding his only bogey of the round, on the par-4 No. 12. He missed a 12-foot putt for par, but rebounded with the birdie on the next hole with the roar for Woods at No. 18 ringing in his ears.
"I heard that huge roar," McIlroy said. "I knew it definitely wasn't a birdie roar. I knew that putt at 13 was going to be very important."
McIlroy managed to keep his composure and ultimately strolled to a two-stroke victory over Woods.
Girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki was watching her beau nervously from afar, herself the tennis world number one until January's Australian Open, tweeting from New York: "Amazing performance. Tournament win and new world number one. Deserves a good celebration."
After capturing the number one spot, McIlroy revealed that he won't be relinquishing it without a fight.
"I'd like to stay there for a while," he said. "As long as I keep playing good golf and have chances to win tournaments, then hopefully I'll stay up there.
"I feel the way I'm playing at the minute, the level of consistency, hopefully I'm going to be able to stay there for a while."
Vanquished Tiger Woods praised McIlroy for the quality golf which has seen him rise to number one.
He said: "For him being No. 1, it's a testament to how consistent he's been. That's what you have to do. You're not going to win every time you tee it up, but you can be consistent. You can be close and in the hunt and that's what he's done."
Fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell said: "He's the best player I've ever seen tee-to-green, period."