Born in Holywood, Northern Ireland, in
May 1989, the only child of Gerry and Rosie, McIlroy enjoyed a distinguished amateur career, including winning the silver medal for low amateur at the
2007 Open Championship. He turned professional that September. He won for the first time on the European Tour in 2009 after an opening 64 at the Dubai Desert Classic and for the first time in the States at Quail Hollow in 2010 on the back of a closing 62. He has been the world No.1 for 95 weeks, miles adrift of Tiger Woods (683) and Greg Norman (331) but very close to catching Nick Faldo (97) and thereby moving up to third on the all-time list. Maybe he’ll have got there by the time the tour caravan reaches Augusta in April.
Ah, yes – the Masters. As McIlroy has been saying since he won his third different major championship, “The Masters is the one…” This coming April, as surely as controversy follows President Trump, it will happen again. McIlroy said ahead of the tournament last April: “I think I am a good enough player and have everything I need to become a Masters champion. But I also know each and every year that passes, the expectation will rise and it will become increasingly difficult.” No one said he wasn’t perceptive.
In 2011, McIlroy led the Masters by four going into the final round but his lead had gone before he’d played the 2nd hole. McIlroy started with a bogey; Charl Schwartzel started birdie-par-eagle. Schwartzel would go on to win while Rory would stumble home with an 80 – an unthinkable 10 shots adrift. In 1956, Ken Venturi had led the Masters by four shots only to lose it with an 80 on Sunday, so the scenario wasn’t unprecedented. Although it took Venturi a further eight years to win a major, the 1964 US Open, it took McIlroy a little over eight weeks. By coincidence, at the same venue.
In the US Open at Congressional, McIlroy had an eight-shot lead on Sunday morning. By Sunday evening that was his margin of victory. “If you had asked me when I turned pro did I think I’d have won a major by 22, I would have said no,” said an exultant champion.
McIlroy’s 16-under par was a US Open record. When he won the US PGA at Kiawah Island the following year – again by eight shots – another scoring record fell. Nothing to this majors lark, right?
The next two were much closer affairs. In the 2014 Open at Royal Liverpool he got home by two and thanked the crowd for their tremendous support “even though I’m a Man United fan standing here”, which drew the good-natured boos he’d expected. In the US PGA at Valhalla the following month he won by a shot after a dramatic finale. It was so dark that McIlroy insisted he and playing partner Bernd Wiesberger first hit their drives on the par-5 18th and then their second shots while, ahead, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were playing the same hole. “We were cool with them hitting the tee shots,” said Fowler. “We weren’t expecting the approach shots.”
Aged 24, McIlroy had won four majors. Only Nicklaus and Woods had previously managed that. But soon he would have to back off. He withdrew from the 2015 Open after sustaining an ankle injury while playing football. “It can happen walking off a tee box,” McIlroy said, defending his actions and determined to pretty much carry on regardless.
So the football with friends would continue,
just not in mid-summer. “I really can’t be doing silly things like playing football in the middle of the season and jeopardising even six months of my career. That’s a big chunk where I could make some hay and win a major or two.” In the December he had laser surgery on his eyes, admitting that he’d delayed the treatment until then so it would not interfere with the season. He’d evidently learnt his footy lesson already!
No one said he couldn’t get feisty…
Heading into the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in November 2015, McIlroy held the advantage over Danny Willett in the Race to Dubai, but not without controversy. Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, had granted the Irishman special dispensation so that he did not have to fulfil the Tour’s criterion of playing in at least 13 events in order to be eligible to win it, this on account of the fact that Rory’s football injury had caused him to curtail his schedule. Willett was both riled about this – “there’s a lot of guys who play through injuries week in, week out; it’s the story of the game… if it had been anyone else they might not have been given the same treatment” – and relaxed about it – “Keith couldn’t have not given a dispensation to him really… it’s Rory and he’s going to be the life force of this Tour for the next 15 years,
“I think I am a good enough player and have everything I need to become Masters champion”