By Brian Keogh
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
Brian Keogh is a golf correspondent for The Irish Sun and a contributor to The Irish Times, Golf Digest Ireland and other golf publications. The following excerpt from Brian’s Irish Golf Desk is used with permission.
RORY MCILROY WAS ON TOP OF THE WORLD last night after he held off a dramatic final-round charge from Tiger Woods to become Ireland’s first number one. The pride of Holywood fired a one under 69 to win by two shots on 12 under from Tom Gillis and Woods, who eagled the last to close with a stunning eight under 62—the lowest final round of his career—to set the target and heap the pressure on Ireland’s boy wonder.
McIlroy’s brilliant response was an incredible statement of intent from the 22-year-old, who validated his status as the best player in the world by becoming the second youngest No 1 since Woods soared to the top of the world rankings 15 years ago at the age of just 21.
With the greatest player of the modern era firing two eagles and four birdies to put him under severe pressure coming down the stretch, McIlroy proved that he’s the real deal with a sensational final-round performance characterised by some astounding short game skills.
Cradling the trophy, McIlroy said: “It was tough today, especially seeing Tiger make a charge and post 10 under. I knew par golf would probably be good enough today and that’s what I was trying to do.
“To shoot one under par in these conditions when you are going into the final round with a lead is just very nice, I was just glad to get the job done.”
Asked how it felt to be world No 1, he said: “It feels great. Knowing that I needed to go out today and play solid golf not just to win this tournament but to get to No 1 in the world and to be able to do it is very satisfying.”
McIlroy was under huge pressure following back-nine charges from Woods and Lee Westwood (63), but he responded brilliantly as the weather gods smiled on him and the severe winds died down as if to pay him their respects during the final two hours of play.
As Woods birdied the 17th and then holed an eight footer on the 18th for eagle and punched the air, McIlroy immediately responded to the huge roar by following a bogey at the 12th by holing an eight footer of his own for birdie at the 13th to go two clear on 12 under.
In trouble at the 14th, the Ulsterman holed a clutch four footer for par to remain two clear entering the dreaded Bear Trap stretch of holes from the 15th to the 17th that cost Padraig Harrington five shots as he crashed to a 79.
Even Jack Nicklaus feared for McIlroy, when he said: “I’d rather be in Tiger’s position than Rory’s.”
But the Irish star held firm, splashing out to six feet from sand left of the 15th before draining the putt to remain two ahead. After safely negotiating the 16th in regulation, he bunkered his tee shot at the 190-yard 17th but feathered his recovery to three and a half feet to save par before laying up at the last and securing victory with a par five.
Woods needed just 21 ranking events to climb to the top of the game at just 21 years, five months and 17 days in June 1997.
“It’s a testament to how consistent he’s been,” Woods said. “You can’t get to No. 1 in the world unless you’re consistent, and he’s won a few times here and there but he’s been very, very consistent. That’s what you have to do.”
Graeme McDowell fired a final round 69 to finish tied for eighth on five under and hailed his pal’s new-found belief in his putting and his rise to the top of the game.
“That’s the biggest difference in Rory’s game,” McDowell said.
“A couple years ago, yeah, he was probably a little question mark from inside six feet. His stroke was a little bit kind of lifty and across the line. The work he did with Dave Stockton I guess pre‑Congressional last year has made a huge amount of difference, and now he believes he’s a great putter. That was the missing link, because the rest of his game is all there.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever seen tee‑to‑green, period. I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger early to mid 2000s when Tiger was the man, but Rory McIlroy is the best—he’s the best player I’ve ever seen. Like I say, as soon as he learned how to putt, he was going to be a dominating force, and you’re starting to see that now.”
Brian Keogh covers golf for The Irish Sun and contributes to a variety of golf publications. Pay him a visit at Irish Golf Desk.
(Photo credit: Titleist.com)