The Last Word: Glorify McIlroy as a golfer, not as some kind of saint

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The Independent Online

If only Rory McIlroy could have ventured out at Congressionallast night simply as the runaway leader of the US Open. Alas, there were not only his own ambitions to haul around the 7,574 yards. The 22-year-old was also obliged to carry the hopes of the whole of golf, the whole of sport even.

No problem there, you may think. Nothing wrong with a heartwarming tale of a kid so crushed by capitulation at the Masters in Augusta bouncing back to earn some immediate redemption. What a talent, what a story. If only it could start and end there.

But it won't, and it wouldn't because already young Rory has to be so much more than young Rory. He is Tiger Woods as Tiger Woods should have been; as he was, indeed, until the myth came crashing down. Rory is the role model, the ideal idol, the saintly superstar. He is the answer.

Why? Because in the words of one euphoric American broadcaster, "He gets it." What is "it"? One has only to have been in Washington these last few days to understand. It's the dreaded "p" word – perspective. The boy took humiliation at the Masters like a man should, and then visited Haiti to witness nature's devastation first hand. Can you imagine Woods doing that?

That has been the unasked question thundering in the background as McIlroy has been all but deified. None of it has been orchestrated on McIlroy's behalf. The "nobody's died" responses he gave as he walked off at Augusta weren't the product of some carefully choreographed PR operation and, apart from the need to publicise the charity, neither was his trip with Unicef. That's just McIlroy for you. He's natural, he's nice, he's a top bloke.

But so what? That's no reason to haul him up on to a pedestal which has nothing to do with his profession. Hasn't golf learned its lesson with Woods, just as sport should have done with Ryan Giggs and so many more of its fallen icons? Blessedly, McIlroy shows no signs of embarking on such a destructive lifestyle, and those close to him are certain he will remain the curly-haired kid next door with absolutely no side and no agenda but to win golf tournaments. But all this hero worship is not helping. Let him be, let him play.

What are the chances of that? None whatsoever. A first win in a major this evening would see his elevation to the forefront of golf, and thenceforth his non-golfing qualities will be extolled from the clubhouse rooftops. Granted, it is impossible to separate the off-course from the on-course, but what should be celebrated in Maryland is the rhythm with which he swings his driver, the panache he shows with a wedge. Yes, we should all toast his attitude, too; the smile he wears, the grace he shows in victory or defeat, the manner in which he interacts with the galleries. If you must, tell your children, "That's the way to behave on the golf course." But leave it there. Don't hold him up as some sort of paragon, because he isn't one and he doesn't want to be one.

But worse still, don't confuse his virtues as a human with his virtues as a golfer. By the end of his breathless soliloquy the American broadcaster declared: "It doesn't matter if Rory wins or not, because he's already a champion – as a human being."

Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. Quite frankly, it's irrelevant. McIlroy is in town to be a champion golfer. That's what matters to him and he would be the first to acknowledge that his sport owes him nothing, regardless of how wonderful a human he may be.

It's like that old truism says: "Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian." McIlroy understands that. We can only pray his ever-swelling legion of admirers do too.

McLeish is wrong to abandon Blues fans

Perhaps it says plenty about the mess at Villa Park that the club could not replace their leader before al-Qa'ida managed it. And now Randy Lerner stands accused of making an appointment which has outraged a large section of the support.

It's always the chairman who is blamed. Just as the spotlight is always shone upon the side in the Premier League. During this drawn-out farce very few have stopped to consider how the Birmingham fans feel. You know, those paying punters who chanted Alex McLeish's name and who remained loyal to him when the Blues were relegated.

But no, you probably don't know them, because all the narrative has been concerned with the Villa faithful's uproar and the reasons McLeish resigned just after his new employees failed to net Roberto Martinez. Was he tapped up, or had his position been "made untenable" by the Birmingham board, as is claimed by Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers Association?

I don't care if McLeish was tapped up. The people I do feel for are the Birmingham fans forced to watch their manager signing for their fiercest rivals. Of course, the liberals out there will say, "They shouldn't be so childish if they are upset and should appreciate McLeish is a professional." But these apologists obviously don't understand that without local enmity, without fans having teams to dislike, football in this country wouldn't be anywhere near as dramatic, and thus not as watched, and thus McLeish wouldn't be anywhere near as well paid.

Say what you want, McLeish has let down his former supporters. And it makes no odds if McLeish himself was let down by the club's owners. Two wrongs don't make a right.

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