Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit
As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays this week, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
As an emblem of celebrity bling, the Tonight Show Face Breakers trophy, presented by Jimmy Fallon, is an important marker in the inexorable rise of Rory McIlroy. Fallon is a leading light among the talk show beau monde broadcasting out of fame central in Manhattan. An audience with this talking head presupposes a certain celebrity value, which, when spun through the Fallon prism, thrusts the boy into a whole new orbit.
Think of the experience as the polar opposite of the Big Brother house, which dredges the green rooms of the world for D-listers then lobs them together in a dim ensemble of sub-ordinariness for the delectation of dunderheads with the intellectual guns of under-10s.
All it took for Kellie Maloney to revert to Frank in a wig was the offer of £400k. There wasn’t much Kellie wouldn’t do for wonga in a former life, including the selling of ad space on the sole of one fighter's shoes so sure was she that her boy was going down. It was apposite that Kellie should laud Audley Harrison for his exceptional promotional talents since there was little to commend him in the ring.
Back to New York. Just as he did at Old Trafford parading the Claret Jug at half-time, McIlroy looked a tad stiff in the studio setting, goofing around with golf balls in the company of Tiger Woods. Golf’s outgoing poster boy has spent two decades adjusting to the requirements of fame and merely assumes the necessary posture depending on the setting. Woods was entirely at ease as Fallon’s chipping coach: “You gotta get it there first.” Who has not had that said to them on the driving range with the pro looking on?
McIlroy was presented with a wall of 12 glass panes arranged randomly within a square, six bearing a Warhol-like portrait of his face and six the mug of Fallon. Sharing a mat alongside Fallon with Woods looking on, the pair engaged in a game of six pots in, the idea being to smash each other’s face in with their chip shots. McIlroy’s awkwardness left him the moment he had a club in his hand, his 60-degree wedge acting as a graphite-shafted comfort blanket. And guess what? He creamed it. Of course he did. McIlroy can’t miss in this phase of the magic carpet ride.
The melding of sport and light entertainment is a popular device for TV shows looking to piggy back a “phenom” engaged in historic plunder. A golfer with four majors at 25, two of those bagged in the space of three weeks this summer, the golden bookends in a hat-trick of massive tournament wins, was perfect fodder for busy, young producers with topical antennae wanting to get on the hottest property.
McIlroy did not need an introduction. This is the second wave of conversational pieces after he made the same sofa following his first PGA Championship win at Kiawah Island two years ago, which also came the month before the Ryder Cup. He was packaged then by Fallon as the best golfer in the world “right now”. On this occasion there was no need to qualify McIlroy’s status. He is The Man full stop.
Woods is presently stood down with back trouble and will not resurface until 2015. Even if he were in full health he would have to accept a reduced role in Jimmy’s house routines. This he did with good humour. Let’s see how he feels a year from now if the McIlroy arc continues to collect silverware at a similar rate on its remarkable trajectory.
The Northern Irishman poses with the Open trophy at Old Trafford (Getty)
McIlroy, being a well-mannered fellow, knows to treat his elders with respect and was, therefore, dutifully respectful of Woods’ place in the golfing pantheon. “I’ve gotten to know Tiger for the last few years. I guess this little run that I’m on makes me appreciate what he’s done in the past. Just phenomenal, just to keep a run like this going and he’s done like way more than me,” McIlroy said. “Makes me appreciate how hard he worked, and how dominant a figure he was in our game.”
Note the past tense. No one bats an eyelid any more. The pair appeared with Fallon at a Nike gig at Liberty National golf club in neighbouring New Jersey before crossing the Hudson River for the TV slot. Woods was again playing second fiddle, reduced to standing by holding the coffees while McIlroy hit balls as Nike’s principal mannequin and driving the commercial business of golf.
This is the first week of the month-long finale to the PGA Tour, the FedEx Play-offs, which deliver to the winner a jackpot bonus of $10m (£6m) to add to the $1.4m tournament prize at the Tour Championship, small potatoes for the company of the hottest ticket in golf town since, in fact, Woods was a lad.
Two years ago, before he fell off the performance cliff holding Caroline Wozniacki’s hand, McIlroy won back-to-back titles during the FedEx finale. A repeat would have golf in a frenzy, if it isn’t already, by the time he pitches up at the Ryder Cup in Scotland at the end of next month.
McIlroy leads the FedEx points standings going into the Barclays in New Jersey on Thursday, when he is grouped with Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson. Poor Bubba can’t wait, one assumes, having been cleaned out by McIlroy in the opening two rounds at the PGA Championship at Valhalla a fortnight ago.
The Ryder Cup ends the golfing year in the United States, but not for McIlroy who soldiers on to the climax of the European Tour season, which apes its American brother with four tournaments on the spin leading to a grand denouement in Dubai. Notionally the DP World Tour Championship is the scene of the big shoot-out to identify the winner of the Race to Dubai, the tour’s annual order of merit.
McIlroy’s hot streak has already decided that. For the second time in three years he is the pre-eminent player on both sides of the Atlantic, indubitably the world’s No 1 golfer. Only this time he is authenticated by four majors not two, as well as a first World Golf Championship crown, the Bridgestone Invitational.
Though he has barely hit a ball in any serious capacity since sinking the winning putt in the Kentucky gloaming, he will be expected to win this week, and every time he puts a tee in the ground by virtue of being Rory McIlroy. This is what comes of wielding the pen that drew a line under the Woods era.
Roaring Rory: McIlroy’s 2014 record
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship - finished 2nd
Dubai Desert Classic - 9th
WGC Accenture Match Play Championships - 17th
Honda Classic Tied - 2nd
Cadillac Championship - 25th
Shell Houston Open - 7th
Masters - 8th
Wells Fargo Championship - 8th
Players Championship - 6th
BMW PGA Championship - Won
Memorial Tournament - 15th
US Open - 23rd
Irish Open - missed cut
Scottish Open - 14th
The Open - Won
WGC Bridgestone Invitational - Won
PGA Championship - Won
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