Rory McIlory is not accustomed to feeling old but the 18 year old was so impressed with his playing partner in the Maybank Malaysian Open Pro-Am that he walked off the course feeling “pretty average” by a player ten years his junior.
Having got his week off to a flying start by shooting 63 in the Pro-Am at Kota Permai Golf and Country Club, finishing the day off with a hole-in-one on the fourth, McIlory was understandably upbeat ahead of his first appearance in the Maybank Malaysian Open, but rather than talk of his own exploits, it was the performance of eight year old Galvin Green which really caught his eye.
“He is absolutely awesome,” said McIlroy of Green, who plays off a handicap of nine. “I really can’t get over how good he is and that really made the day. He is better than I was at his age and an incredibly talented prospect for the future. It was nice to play with him and even though I played pretty well, he made me look pretty average. I got down to single figures when I was 11 so he is three years ahead of me.”
The young Malaysian Green is the World Under 8 champion, a title he won by 14 shots and his stocky 4ft 7in build helped him carry the ball about 170 yards. His older brother Gavin is also pretty handy as the World Under 14 champion,
“Galvin reminded me of Gary Wolstenholme as he was so good with his woods. He is a strong kid. Has solid legs and quite big forearms for a kid of that age. He is probably a little short in height but his dad seemed tall and if he can grow up like to his dad’s height and have a swing like that he could go very far.
“He says he loves hitting golf balls. We came off the course today and had lunch and you could see he was so bored, he just wanted to go out and play. He absolutely loves it.”
As for his own prospects in the tournament itself, McIlroy is looking forward to the challenge of Kota Permai G&CC, a new venue for the Maybank Malaysian Open, particularly after his grandstand finish when he aced the 168 yard fourth with a seven iron to claim his fifth hole-in-one but first since he was 12 years old.
“It is my first time here and I am very impressed with the golf course,” he said. “It is a very old fashioned, traditional layout and the greens are great. The rain has helped soften it up and the greens are rolling very well
“I haven’t seen much of Kuala Lumpur yet but hope to go out in the city and see the Petronas Twin Towers. But it seems a nice country and a bit different to what I am used to. A lot hotter and I am really looking forward to the week.”
McIlroy’s fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke was also in fine form after the Pro-Am after a royal appointment which saw him playing alongside the King of Malaysia, who plays off a handy 12 handicap. One of the benefits was that when they stopped for a mid-round snack, a golf tablecloth would appear and the group would dine on what Clarke described as “royal nibbles”.
“It was a privilege to play with the King,” said Clarke. “He played well and the teram played well so it was a fun morning.”
Clarke is making his third appearance in the Maybank Malaysian Open since it became a joint-sanctioned event by The European Tour and Asian Tour in 1999, although he played many times before that and is well used to the heat and humidity, one of the main challenges of the week. This is his first time at Kota Permai G&CC though.
“This is a good course. So was Saujana but this is nicer as it is not quite as hilly and therefore it can get hotter and it is not as bad. There are lots of chances, the greens are obviously grainy but the course is very good. Lot of chances but a lot of water and that will come into play as well.”
Two weeks ago Clarke forced himself to watch every shot in the WGC – Accenture Match Play, an event he won in 2000, to remind himself that is where he wants to be. Clarke has fallen well down the World Ranking over the past two years and therefore didn’t qualify for the event featuring the top 64 players in the world.
“I was putting myself through it,” admitted Clarke. “I was making sure I watched it for that reason. I wanted to be there and obviously haven’t played well enough to be there. But I was watching it for two reasons, for my interest in Tiger and also watching every shot as I know the golf course and I want to be there playing and I am not at the moment.”
David Howell is also on the comeback trail as he looks to put a 2007 season blighted by injury behind him.
“Last year was tough,” he said. “The early part of this season was to find my feet again and making gentle progress on the game I know I can play. It’s been mixed with a couple of miss cuts but I had a top ten in Qatar which was good.
“I’ve had a few weeks at home and simplified a few things. I hope things will go well and looking forward to getting back to playing again.”
The Maybank Malaysian Open, the oldest of the co-sanctioned events between The European Tour and the Asian Tour, begins on Thursday with Sweden’s Peter Hedblom defending the title.