herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Rory out to tighten grip

New No1 keen to hold off Donald in Florida

LIKE most of history's valid accessions, the recipient of the crown had known since childhood his coronation day would come. Perhaps this realisation is why Rory McIlroy, in the words of his father Gerry, is feeling "relieved" to be the new world No1. It is possible to feel on top of the world without slipping into a state of euphoria, you know.

Yesterday, McIlroy was in Manhattan with his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, following a night of celebration after he raced up to New York from his Honda Classic victory at Palm Beach on Sunday. In truth, the party wouldn't have been wild. Today he was due to fly back to Florida, to the Doral resort, where he will attempt to stop Luke Donald making his the shortest reign as world No1 in history.

Donald might not even need to win the WGC Cadillac Championship to claim back his throne. But whatever the permutations at the course nicknamed "the Blue Monster", nobody but the deeply deluded can believe that for McIlroy it will be a case of "one and done".

No doubt, the 22-year-old will be determined to hold off Donald, but he has already notched up yet another tick which no one can ever take away. "Of course we're proud," Gerry McIlroy said. "He has put so much work into it. If it didn't happen today then the question would have been 'when?' Now he can just get on with it."

And there is plenty to be getting on with as he assumes the protagonist's role in a chapter promising to be one of golf's most gripping.

Anticipation

Rarely has the game approached a major with such anticipation. As well as McIlroy claiming what many considered to be his birthright, there is a certain Tiger Woods on the prowl. His 62 on Sunday, the lowest final round of his 16-year career, made an unarguable case for his resurgence as he came from nine behind to push the winner to within two shots.

Indeed, if that winner didn't happen to be the moppy-haired boy from county Down who has utterly captivated the galleries, then every golfing headline would have been screaming "Tiger".

And in many respects that is McIlroy's greatest feat in assuming a mantle which will now earn him millions in sponsor bonuses.

"His short game was the difference," said Gerry, reflecting on the fact his son managed to get up and down 21 out of 25 times. "But that's just all the practice. Rory has always believed that the more you put into it the more you get out."

McIlroy has stepped into a new dimension by adding a dimension. "It's since the Masters," said Gerry. "He learnt a lot from that experience." Lessons of patience and course-management were heeded as the agony forced him to mature. But McIlroy also realised his short game required an overhaul.

If Donald hits back immediately, the majority would still view McIlroy as the "real" No1. Tiger Woods knows why. "It's because he's won a major," said the 14-time major winner. Pádraig Harrington peered rather further into the perception.

"I do believe Rory has the look of a world No1 in terms of having a big, spectacular game," said his fellow Irishman. "There are guys out there at his age with lots of potential but Rory -- like Tiger at his age -- has already delivered."

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