Rory McIlroy has received many compliments in his short but staggering time so far as a professional but none have glowed as brightly as that issued by Mark O'Meara here last night. "At 19, McIlroy is better than Tiger Woods was at that age," said the American.
O'Meara is well-placed to judge. The double major winner is a great friend of Woods and has been his regular partner ever since Tiger introduced his outrageous talent to the scene as a teenager. But after playing alongside the young Ulsterman in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic and having looked on as he stormed into the first-round lead, O'Meara made a declaration that should delight all of Ireland and scare the rest of the game witless alike.
"It's hard to compare anyone with Tiger because of his mind and heart, that's such a big element," said the 52-year-old. "But certainly Rory has those qualities. Ball-striking wise, at 19 Rory is better than Tiger was at that age. His technique is better. Certainly Tiger has developed his game and modified his swing over the years to be able to hit the ball pin-high, but Rory is already doing that at 19.
"He's kind of a step ahead. He hits it far enough, he is very composed, and he has a great short game. I can't see any weaknesses or why he can't win many major championships. Rory's got it. There's no denying it. It's not just today. I understand he shot eight-under. And it looked pretty easy, to be honest with you."
What made McIlroy's performance all the more remarkable was the cool manner in which he rattled off his nine birdies and one bogey while playing with one of his boyhood heroes. "I used to always go and watch the World Match Play at Wentworth," said McIlroy after the 64 which gave him a one-shot lead over Sweden's Robert Karlsson. "I remember Mark beating Tiger in 1998, I was nine, I think, and we were having a laugh today when I told him that he gave me a ball and signed it that day. I've still got it."
Evidently, it will not be too long until O'Meara is asking McIlroy for some autographed memorabilia. After a startling run in which he had recorded seven top 10s in his last 11 tournaments, McIlroy is the youngest player to appear inside the world's top 40 and has become the youngest professional ever to have qualified to play in the Masters. All his CV needs now is the first win.
Compton let down by heartless officials
Golf officials are notoriously unbudgeable when it comes to enforcing the rules, but even by the standards of that stubborn bunch, the time warning that Erik Compton received during the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic yesterday seemed cruel to the point of being utterly callous.
The American is the only professional athlete to have had two heart transplants, the most recent of which was only eight months ago, and had not walked a full competitive 18 holes since suffering a heart attack 15 months ago. The 29-year-old – who prior to the event had been informed by the European Tour that, unlike in America, he would not be allowed to use a buggy – clearly found it tough going and revealed afterwards that "it takes a while for my heart to warm up, and at the beginning it's difficult to breathe". Yet on his sixth hole, the par-three 15th, an official put him on the clock as he played his tee shot and informed him afterwards that he was issuing a "slow play" warning. Compton had taken just six seconds more than the allotted time limit of 40 seconds. "It was kind of bullshit," said Compton. "But then, he probably doesn't know me."
The answer to that is surely that the official should have known who Compton was and made allowances because of his condition. As it was, the former Walker Cup player managed admirably to put the distraction behind him and went on to shoot a one-under par 71.