James Lawton: McIlroy reports back for duty with major bearing

Rory agreed that such moments at Congressional were the stepping stones to a new level of self-belief, a new sense that an obstacle has been removed

Fears that the astonishing focus Rory McIlroy brought to his sublime victory in last month's US Open might have been mislaid on a three-week flight into celebrity heaven suddenly seemed not just overstated but overwrought here yesterday.

They were, it seemed reasonable to conclude, carried away on a stiff north-easterly.

The 22-year-old Ulsterman, who some are already announcing as the new Tiger Woods, insisted that there will be no fresh fantasising, only an old reality, when he steps into the traditional 9.09am time slot of the currently fallen giant of modern golf at the first tee tomorrow.

He said, in so many easy, unaffected words, that as far he is concerned the 140th Open represents nothing so much as the first days of the rest of his life.

His return to the surface of the earth, he reported, in fact came the night before his arrival here under the grey clouds scudding in from the English Channel and new levels of personal security. It happened back home in County Down, when after the days of Centre Court Royal Box hob-knobbing with the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Robert Redford and Diana Ross, he took a walk into the dusk with his father Gerry at the old golf course that had shaped his life so profoundly.

McIlroy said: "Dad has been a huge influence over my career. Last night we went to Royal County Down and it was just me and him on the golf course, basically no one else, and I played nine holes and he walked around – it was a really nice moment.

"We did the exact same thing last year going into St Andrews. It brought back a lot of memories, playing with my dad, long summer nights, teeing off at at 5[pm] and getting in at 9. I thought how great he was there with me on the course... and it was great to be home."

Yet even as McIlroy declares that his feet are back in firm contact with the ground after the exhilaration of his extraordinary eight-shot triumph at the Congressional Country Club just down the road from Capitol Hill, he also acknowledges that some things can never be the same.

He knows that his own expectations, just as much as those of the golf world that has greeted his breakthrough with the same level of awe created by the 21-year-old Tiger's annexing of the US Masters title in 1997, have changed forever.

They were re-shaped and moved into a new dimension by the scale of his triumph in Maryland – and the extent of his recovery from the collapse in Augusta that two months earlier had provoked the fear that he might just have been permanently broken.

"I don't think I'll be play that sort of golf [the kind that won the US Open] every week I tee it up – but I hope I do," he said. "Yeah, expectations are going to be high but I have high expectations myself.

"I want to go out there and try to win a lot of golf tournaments and win majors and become the best player in the world. So everyone's expectations are high but they can say what they want, they can make the comparisons. All I need to do is focus on my game – and if I can do that I know my good golf is good enough to win plenty more tournaments."

It is a conviction that is gusting as strong as the wind that last night was making rigid the flags on the 18th-hole grandstand.

Not unnaturally, his hometown coach Michael Bannon, is among the most ferocious believers. He reports that when McIlroy came here last week, finally signalling that the days of celebration were over, he produced golf of a stunning quality. "I watched him for a couple of days," said Bannon, "and I've never seen anything as impressive as the way Rory can strike the ball.

"It's the purity of the strike. He hits it different. Maybe Tiger Woods and some other great players were similar but I haven't seen it. It's the X-factor. It's not definable. Rory's swing flows great and there's rhythm and stability and balance. But the way the ball is coming off the clubface is fantastic. Once I'd watched him played I wouldn't want to watch anyone else. Maybe I'm biased."

Bannon has been coaching McIlroy since he was eight years old and his devotion is understandable enough. But then the great Tom Watson, winner of eight majors, who sometimes feels he has been playing for at least a 100 years, is alsodeeply enthusiastic about the beauty and the strength of the McIlroy game.

Watson said yesterday that he saw more than mere striking virtuosity at Congressional. He saw the ability to hold a position, to operate under the most strenuous pressure and this, believes the man from Kansas City, was remarkable after the calamity he found at Augusta National.

"The shot that solidified the win at the US Open was at the third on the Saturday. He hit a bad drive. He had the choice of going for the green or pitching on to the fairway. He came on to the fairway and then hit a wedge to three feet and made par. That was good for his nerves. I know. I made a lot of Watson pars in that situation."

For Watson, this was an outstanding young golfer thinking his way to his first major success, crossing the line that is sometimes drawn against the ambitions of even the most talented of players.

Yesterday McIlroy agreed that such moments were the stepping stones to a new level of self-belief – a new sense that a major obstacle has been removed.

"It means," he said, "I don't have to answer that question [about winning his first major] every time I come to a tournament whereas a lot of guys still do, you know. So it has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I can talk about winning my second major after having won the first."

He may not have intended rapier thrusts into the morale of his Ryder Cup team-mates Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the world's No 1- and No 2-ranked players who still pine for the sensation that McIlroy brought home from America, but there was here, certainly, the picture of a competitor who had moved on to new terrain.

"Even though I felt it was coming for a long time," he said, "it was still great to get it done, out of the way, so I could focus on getting more wins.

"It's quite hard to stay anonymous these days, but it's not such a bad thing. I've had some enjoyable days and if that's the worst thing I'm complaining about, then I'm doing something right."

He was asked about the heavy support he is receiving at the betting window, including reports of two £20,000 wagers, the tide of belief lapping around him on this turbulent day of his return to the serious business of his life, and someone wondered if it was possible for the public's expectations to be higher than his own.

"I don't think so," said the man who was reporting back for serious duty. The celebrity life could wait, at least for a few days.

The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday

Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way


Florida mother launched a petition to ban the sale of the dolls

Arts and Entertainment

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?