Thursday, May 03, 2012


Today’s first round of the Wells Fargo Championship, in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be McIlroy’s fifth competitive round in 53 days. Barack Obama has been pictured more on the course recently than McIlroy.
The break has been taken, the work has been done and with his defence of the US Open in just six weeks’ time, McIlroy is plainly ready to roll. Far from undercooked, McIlroy claims to be smoking.
Certainly, he has cut a radically different figure here these past few days to the pre-Masters favourite who skulked away from Augusta last month.
On that final day he played with his friend Graeme McDowell who opined: “Rory couldn’t wait to get out of the state of Georgia.” In contrast, this neighbouring state has witnessed McIlroy’s old skip and jump.
There are reasons for his geniality, he said on Wednesday, not least the resumption of the profession for which he was born on the Quail Hollow layout where his American dream was born.
Of course, it is not a factor for McIlroy involvement, but he evidently enjoys perspective; it is what he claims helped him to his major breakthrough 12 months ago. Those days on the earthquake-ravaged island forced him to forget his Masters meltdown and steeled his focus.
It is all too easy to be cynical about the philanthropic work of multimillionaires; yet to see McIlroy here on Tuesday filming an advert for the St Jude Children’s Hospital was to witness an idol in his element. This was not corporate – this was genuine.
Dawson is seven years-old and is halfway through a three-year course of chemotherapy at the Memphis centre. Chosen to appear alongside the gold-medallist snowboarder Shaun White and McIlroy, Dawson made a big impression on McIlroy. The connection was immediate.
(Picture above of Rory McIlroy and seven-year-old Dawson is from the Daily Telegraph website).
Dawson’s mother tried to straighten his collar and was duly berated by both. “Don’t, mum,” said the boy. “Yeah, come on mum,” ribbed the golfer. “You’re embarrassing him.” The pair giggled themselves silly.
McIlroy was still uplifted about the meeting on Wednesday. “Dawson is unbelievable. To see some go through what he is and have all this positivity coming out of him . . . it’s inspiring,” said McIlroy. “It’s his actions, his smile. The director told him ‘Dawson, if you forget your lines, we’ve got a teleprompter’. And Dawson goes, ‘I don’t know how to read’.
“He had memorised his lines for the last week and was brilliant. He was more of a pro than I was.”
McIlroy’s bond with children is obvious. No doubt it is an age thing, but they do not demand anything from him other than his presence. Everybody else wants a larger slice; America particularly. It is a gauge of his ever-growing fame Stateside that White turned down famous pop stars and actors to be his co-star. McIlroy was his choice.
“Shaun knew everything about Rors,” said his manager, Conor Ridge, who also revealed that McIlroy would be making another Unicef trip near the end of the year.
Granted this desire to stay grounded is counter to his celebrity, as well as to his celebrity lifestyle. In his weeks away from the game, he has met the Queen at Newbury races and been pictured at other star-studded events with his girlfriend, the world No  6 tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki.
Inevitably, the whispers have arrived of a fading appetite. After all, his recent schedule has made that of Tiger Woods seem bursting.
“I know I’ve been criticised for not playing as much as the other guys leading into these weeks, but basically I don’t want to be burned out by the time I’m 30,” he told The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.
Ridge concurred. “At his age, it’s important he gets away from the game,” he said.
“Rory didn’t pick up a club for two weeks after the Masters and told me that in this time ‘D’you know, I actually forgot I was a golfer’? Other players struggle to do that. Rory can just switch off.”
Yet, as McIlroy acknowledges, there is a harmony to be struck. Critics should back off. He is young — 23 on Friday – and is still searching. “This year I’m going to play 23 events, last year was more like 30,” he said. “I don’t want to be stale. I’m trying to find the perfect balance between golf and having a normal life.
"I don’t know if people will be surprised to see this — but I have a lot more going on in my life than golf. Caroline and I both travel a lot and it’s important we find time to do the things we want to do.”
Hence the extended absence from the fairways. Yet now he is back after a week’s hard graft with his long-time coach, Bangor GC pro  Michael Bannon, and the fitness adviser, Steve McGregor. “I’ve really got at it and am glad to back. Not just back on the course, but on this course, where I won my first American title.
"That final-round 62, having been four back, was probably the best of my career so far. It gave me the confidence to know that if I came over here a bit more I did have good chances of winning American tournaments.”
A repeat victory would mean McIlroy replaces Donald as world No 1 again for the third time in two months. It is a topsy-turvy battle which reflects the power struggle within the game.
With Woods, Phil Mickelson and the world No 3, Lee Westwood, in a world-class field, McIlroy senses the opportunity to create daylight. His confidence definitely suggested he would not be content with merely the top-seven placing he needs to displace the Englishman.
“I think there will be a firm No 1 by the end of the year” he said. “Who will that be? I hope you are looking at him.” Not a teleprompter in sight.

Since playing in the Masters, McIlroy has risen and fallen from the world No 1 spot, despite his inactivity.
Donald, who lost the berth after a poor finish at the Canadian Open in the week following the season’s first major, reclaimed the mantle with a top-three performance in New Orleans last Sunday.
With the Englishman having the week off, McIlroy can return to the summit with a top-seven placing this week – providing Lee Westwood does not win. Then McIlroy would need a top-six finish to keep Westwood off the top.



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