It's child's play for McIlroy

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The Independent Online

Hindsight is traditionally employed in sport to make profound declarations about what the loser did wrong. But it can also be a wonderful thing to make humble deductions about what the winner did right. As Rory McIlroy discovered these last few days when reflecting on a humanitarian trip to Haiti which he credits as being the difference between Augusta and Congressional.

"If I had gone there the week before The Masters I believe it would have worked out very differently," said the 22-year-old. "No, it wasn't my intention to go over with [children's charity] Unicef for two days in the week before the US Open to help my preparation. But I now realise that Haiti was a great thing for me leading up to that event."

Of course, "the huge dose of perspective" assisted in putting his Augusta capitulation into proper focus although, in truth, he achieved such clarity with remarkable haste. More so, it released the shackles of his extraordinary talent. "The things I saw made me realise how lucky I am to be doing what I love doing," he said. "It made me realise I had to get the most out of it."

That accounts for the confidence he showed seven days ago when his eight-shot winning margin crowned him as Europe's youngest major-winner in 139 years. "Attitude was the big change for me. I needed to have that swagger and cockiness and the mindset that 'I'm better than everyone else and I'm going to go out there and show people'," he said.

The people have been shown and the pronouncements have been made. Bigger than Tiger Woods, bigger than Jack Nicklaus even. McIlroy's view is let them guess, let me do. "I'll allow others to make the comparisons, make the presumptions," he said. "One major wouldn't be acceptable, not at all. I mean, I hope one isn't the end of it. But I don't think you can come up with a number. The only player who has ever come up with a number is Tiger – 19. I'm just looking to win my second and when I win my second I'll be trying to win my third and so on."

So Sandwich burns bright in his psyche as The Open Championship looms in 18 days' time. Next week he will travel to the Kent coast for some early reconnaissance. Until then, this self-avowed "sports geek" will take in the David Haye versus Wladimir Klitschko fight in Hamburg and before that, two days at Wimbledon.

These are not mere social trips – although the chance to sit in the Royal Box has excited his girlfriend, Holly. He fills his mental notebook with the tips he garners from fellow superstars. "It's like the Champions' League final," said McIlroy, whose love for Manchester United rivals that of his love for Ulster Rugby. "I'm probably biased, but I thought Wayne Rooney was the best player on the pitch. His goal was unbelievable but what really impressed me was he never stopped trying. I've definitely tried to incorporate some of that into my game.

"It's the same when I've watched Rafa [Nadal] close up in practice. The intensity is the thing. Those sorts of performers believe they can do whatever they want with a football, a tennis ball. And when I'm 'on', I feel like I can make the golf ball do whatever I need it to."

McIlroy and Nadal have been friends since meeting in New York last year. The Spaniard was one of the first to text congratulations last Sunday. "It's funny, his messages sound just like he speaks – in broken English," said McIlroy. "So it was, 'Well done, you the champion, you the best all week'. I'm a big tennis fan [he has a court in his garden] and would love to see Rafa win Wimbledon again. But if it was him against Murray in the final I'd have to root for Andy.

"I can sort of relate to Andy on how much pressure he is under from everyone. He's come close before, been in three Grand Slam finals. It would be great to see because I believe once you get that first one out of the way, things start happening. "

That is plainly a note of rich optimism he carries forward into the second stage of his career. "There's always going to be scrutiny. If I don't win a major for a year or so I know they're all going to ask, 'When's he going to win a second?'. You can't take notice of that. But winning your first one definitely makes it easier to win more. I think it was a big hurdle for me to get over so early."

Perhaps the time he spent with Lee Westwood on Tuesday provided confirmation of that. While recording an episode of Red or Black?, the new Ant and Dec game show, the pair did not discuss the scenes of 48 hours before. That is hardly a surprise when one considers that the 38-year-old Westwood notched a fifth top-three placing from his last seven majors.

"If anyone deserves to win a major it's Lee," said McIlroy. "I mean it's always nice to finish in the top three at majors, but there comes a time when you must feel you want to get one out of the way. I'll do my best not to let him win one. But if it's not me I don't think there's any man who deserves it more."