McIlroy win makes big impression
Saturday 28 February 2009
As the American crowds were still coming to terms with the all too brief appearance of Tiger Woods at his long-awaited comeback, the 19-year-old he would have played in yesterday's third round of the Accenture World Match Play set about proving that the world No 1 was better off at home.
Such was the mauling that Rory McIlroy gave Tim Clark in advancing to the quarter-finals it was difficult to imagine anyone stopping the charge of the extraordinary young Ulsterman.
Of course, it is an entirely different proposition in squaring up to Tim instead of Tiger, but Clark had seen off Woods on Thursday and was meant to be intimidating opponent. Yet on the day when McIlroy gave America the full unedited view of his outrageous talent it appeared ever more unlikely that this ultra-cool champion of the future has a heart that is connected to a nervous system.
McIlroy was simply impervious to the supposed pressures in dispatching the South African 4&3. There were no bogeys on a card which featured five birdies, although perhaps the most impressive numbers were on the stats sheet which showed that he was up to 60 yards ahead of his rival on every drive. The rest of his game was not overshadowed; but the rest of his sport could be in the danger of being put into the shade.
Ernie Els certainly sees McIlroy's destiny as having no equal. "You're looking at the world's next No 1," he said. "Rory has got all the tools. He's hungry and is going to be a major factor in world golf." When told about the Big Easy's comments, McIlroy outlined his own objectives. "My main goal is to get into the world's top 10," he said. "And then if I can do that I'll try to get to No 2. I still have a long way to go."
Actually not that far; not if his many ever-growing army of admirers are to be believed. After seeing him in the flesh on his way to winning his first title in Dubai last month, Mark O'Meara, Wood's best buddy, declared that Rory was better than Tiger had been at the same age. Yesterday, that comparison did not look as outlandish as some of the American sceptics had clearly thought, including Paul Azinger, the triumphant Ryder Cup captain, who yesterday blurted out on the Golf Channel: "Rory is world No 16. I don't know about that."
Well Azinger and his countryman know now. For many of them, this has been their first view of the bushy-haired Ulster boy and only the absurdly myopic could have failed to have been impressed. If he can continue his startling run and prevail in tomorrow's final he will become the youngest winner in the history of the American Tour – on his very first outing on the American Tour. It would be a mind-blowing achievement but on this form he is well capable of it.
This morning he will face the Australian Geoff Ogilvy and should he come through that examination the winner of the Els and Stewart Cink encounter would await. Whatever, he has already stolen the show here, and what a show it has been. For the Irish and for the British. A record five Englishmen had advanced to the last 16 and two are still standing. Paul Casey beat Sweden's Peter Hanson with a routine 3&2 victory, while Ross Fisher's humbling of Jim Furyk was even more empathic.
It is fair to say that the Accenture debutant's 4&3 victory over the former world No 2 had not been anticipated by the desert gallery. The commentator for the local radio station shouted "Ross Who?" when he saw him moving ahead with a barrage of seven birdies. Fisher, last year's European Open, is very, very long and very, very confident and will not fear Justin Leonard this morning. He would dearly have loved to tee it up with his friend Oliver Wilson but the Mansfield man was touched out on the first sudden death hole by Leonard.
The afternoon got off to a bad start when Luke Donald was forced to concede his match to Els on the 18th tee when one down because of a worrying injury to his wrist. It was the same wrist which sidelined Donald for the last six months of 2008 after a tear to a tendon required surgery. Understandably, he was not prepared to risk it. "I hit my tee-shot on the 17th and for the first time since coming back I felt a twinge," he said. "It didn't feel great on the next shot either. So I played it safe and conceded the match to Ernie." Last night Donald was travelling to New York to see his consultant.
Donald's agony served only to heighten the drama and it was easy to forget that a certain superstar had taken his leave so unexpectedly the night previous. Woods, however, was pleased with how he hit the ball and how his reconstructed knee had held out on his return from an eight-month absence. He is now likely to appear at Doral in a fortnight, at Bay Hill two weeks later and after that at Augusta for the Masters. Rory will see him there.
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