Monday, 20 June 2011
Sealed with a kiss  (Getty Images)
Sealed with a kiss (Getty Images)

While the drinks were flowing in his hometown of Holywood following Rory McIlroy’s remarkable performance in the US Open Championship, praise for ‘golf’s next superstar’ came pouring in.

George O'Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, said: “Since Rory turned professional on September 19, 2007 and finished third in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – his second Tour event – a few weeks later to secure his card, we have recognised that we are dealing with a very special talent.
“Rory’s US Open victory was the most complete performance and compelling spectacle, both for the spectators lucky enough to be at Congressional and the millions watching on television throughout the world. It was simply stunning.
“In victory and defeat, Rory displays a dignified and polite demeanour and he is an inspirational role model for all who follow sport worldwide.”

McIlroy became the youngest European Tour Member to win a Major Championship with his devastating eight stroke victory at Congressional Country Club and his peers are predicting more records and honours will be heading his way.

The Ulsterman attributes the recent avalanche of success by European Tour Members on the world stage – McIlroy was the fifth straight European Tour Major winner - to the breakthrough of three-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington, who in turn feels McIlroy could go on to become one of the game’s all-time greats.

“If you are going to take about someone challenging Jack’s record, there’s your man,” said Harrington. “Winning Majors at 22 with his talent, he would have 20 or more years and probably about 100 more majors in him where he could be competitive. It would give him a great chance.”

Harrington’s assessment is one shared by another Irishman Graeme McDowell, McIlroy’s close friend and the man he succeeded as US Open Champion. The pair played together in The 2010 Ryder Cup and no player is probably better positioned to give an insight into the reasons behind McIlroy’s success than McDowell.

“Rory’s probably the best driver of the ball I’ve ever seen,” said McDowell. “We nicknamed him the BMW because he is the Ultimate Driving Machine. I played off his drives at The Ryder Cup. I’d love to do it for just one week playing off his drives. Fair play, he’s decimated this US Open golf course and this was no easy test. It was an amazing display of golf.

“Nothing this kid does ever surprises me.  He's the best player I've ever seen.  I didn't have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp so this guy is the best I've ever seen, simple as that.  He's great for golf.  He's a breath of fresh air for the game and perhaps we're ready for golf's next superstar. Maybe Rory is it.”

Another of McIlroy’s Ryder Cup Teammates Luke Donald, who went into the US Open as World Number One, also predicts a bright future for the player who showed the sort of unerring accuracy normally displayed by Donald himself.

“I said it a couple of years ago when I first saw Rory, I think he is one of the greatest talents in the game,” said Donald. “He has probably the most talent I've ever seen from a golfer.

“Just the way he swings and goes at the game. I can see him winning a lot of times, especially Majors. It’s lovely to watch him play, he has such a fluid motion, and he hits it far.  He's got a great attitude on and off the golf course.

“He comes from a background where his parents gave up a lot for him to do what he's doing, and I think he still knows where he came from and appreciates that.  He's very good with the fans, and it's very good for the game.”

Lee Westwood, a stablemate of McIlroy’s, added: “He's been knocking on the door.  It's amazing he's only ever won three tournaments the amount of time he gets into contention.  Maybe this will give him that impetus to go forward and win more often.”

Charl Schwartzel, the man who benefitted from McIlroy’s final round problems at the Masters Tournament, was impressed by the way he recovered from his Augusta heartache.

“It's pretty spectacular what he's done,” said the South African. “The way he reacted, the way he handled it afterwards, he just put it behind him very quickly.  He just said, well, it happened, and he sort of got on with it a lot quicker, which for him was very good, and the results are showing.”

Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen said: “It was just a matter of time.  There was no way he was never going to win a Major.  He's too good a player, and you expect him in every Major to be up there.”

US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer, expressed his delight at McIlroy joining the illustrious group of Major Champions on The European Tour.

“He plays golf fantastically,” said the German. “To finish at 16 under par is very impressive and I'm very happy for him.  The way he plays golf, it's a different golf.  It's close to perfect.”

Four-time Major Champion Phil Mickelson also reserved praise for McIlroy after playing alongside him for the opening two rounds at Congressional and then watching as he broke record upon record over the weekend.

“You can tell that Rory has had this type of talent in him for some time now, and to see him putting it together is pretty neat to see,” said Mickelson.

And Jack Nicklaus had to laugh tonight when reminded that new US Open champion Rory McIlroy was a few months younger than him when he landed the first of his record 18 majors in 1962.

"He's ahead - and his score is way ahead of my pace," said Nicklaus, who only two weeks ago chatted to the Northern Irishman about his Masters disappointment in April.

"I think this kid's going to have a great career - I don't think there's any question about it.

"He's humble when he needs to be humble and confident when he needs to be confident. I like his moxie - he's cocksure and I like that. You've got to have that.

"He obviously had a couple if disappointments at The Masters and last year's Open (McIlroy started 63-80 at St Andrews and finished with an 80 at Augusta), but I didn't think that was going to happen again and it hasn't."

His victory also drew applause from outside his sport, with even Tennis World Number One Rafael Nadal revealing his performance was an "inspiration" as he sets about defending his Wimbledon title.

"What he's been doing is really something unbelievable. He's probably got one of the nicest swings in the world, if not the nicest. It's been fantastic to watch what he's been doing in this tournament. In my opinion, right now he's playing at a different level to the rest. So for sure he is an inspiration. I admire him a lot." .

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