Britain was guaranteed its first ever finalist in the Accenture World Match Play Championship when Paul Casey and Ross Fisher advanced to face each other in last night's semi-finals. Whichever Englishman was to prevail would earn the right to compete for today's £1 million prize.
Both appeared impervious to the pressures in their morning quarter-finals. Casey, a former champion of the Wentworth version of the World Match Play, destroyed Sean O'Hair in a match even more one-sided than the 4&3 scoreline suggested. The American was suffering from food poisoning and Casey's fine form only added to his queasiness.
Fisher's battle with Justin Leonard was much more closely fought. In seeing off the renowned Ryder Cup performer with a battling 2&1 triumph Fisher gained many new admirers. This has been his first appearance in the event and his big-hitting performance has stunned galleries who have suddenly discovered how deep the talent on the European Tour runs. And today is destined to provide yet further proof.
Alas, the extraordinary adventure of Rory McIlroy came to an end as he was beaten by Geoff Ogilvy 2&1. There was no shame in losing to an Australian ranked in the world's top 10, who was later to confront Stewart Cink with a record in this event reading, played 17, won 15. McIlroy had his chances and once again the 19-year-old highlighted his own prodigious length off the tee. On the fourth he drove the ball almost 400 yards and left Ogilvy, by no means a short hitter, 70 yards behind.
And then there was the guts he displayed on the 16th when holing a 12 foot birdie putt down the slope to keep his quarter-final alive. The US audience is not in the habit of extolling brave losers but have made an exception with McIlroy. After witnessing this astonishing professional debut on US soil the networks are crying out for more and will get it in four days' time when McIlroy tees it up at the Honda Classic and the week after that at the WGC CA Championship at Doral.
Nobody and nothing fazes the Ulster boy, but somehow he manages to accommodate this nonchalance in a down-to-earth personality. As much as America has been gripped by a swing as natural as it is rhythmic, they have warmed to a character who portrays none of the arrogance of Anthony Kim, their own wunderkind.
During his devastating dismantling of Tim Clark, Tiger Woods's conqueror, on Friday the networks rejoiced over the yarn that the night previous McIlroy had stayed up until midnight just so he could speak to his girlfriend, Holly, before she departed for school in their Belfast suburb of Holywood. The conversation went along the lines of Holly telling Rory that she had exams coming up and she still did not know what she wanted to be when she grew up. To that her boyfriend replied, "Don't worry. When I grow up, I am not sure what is going to happen, either."
In truth, McIlroy's future is being carefully mapped out by his astute management team at ISM, led by Chubby Chandler, who also oversees the careers of Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. When Chandler arrives back in Britain tomorrow he is expecting his office phone to be ringing off the wall. However, as the offers fly in, Chandler insists he will remain as impervious as his young client. "Because of his age, there is no rush to do anything," he explained.
With this in mind they will decline the option to take up his American Tour card; although with the world at his feet, it is plainly also a case of America not being enough for McIlroy. "He wants to be a global player, a junior Ernie Els, if you like," said Chandler. "He has seen how Ernie is a global icon and he sees that as the way he wants to go. You know, people have said it's on the same scale as Michelle Wie. But it's totally different. The Wie thing was all hype. The Rory Mcilroy thing isn't hype because he has already produced. What you have is a 19-year-old who is No 17 in the world. The European Tour needs to understand they have got a genuine superstar," he said.
"He plays the game like Seve; he hits it, runs after it and then hits it again. And if it goes in the shit then he simply hits it out of the shit. He is fantastic for golf, so much fun to watch. He does not dilly-dally over the ball like some of these guys."
For Rory there simply would not be the time. As he has underlined here these last few days, here is a young man going places in a hurry.Reuse content