Ir­ish big cat McIlroy roar­ing loud as SA Open looms

The Times (South Africa) - - SPORT - CRAIG RAY TMG Dig­i­tal

FOR­MER World No 1 Rory McIlroy posted a short video clip of a huge male lion while on sa­fari at the week­end‚ a per­fect metaphor for his own pres­ence at this week’s SA Open pro-am at Glen­dower Golf Club.

With four ma­jors al­ready‚ he is the big­gest draw­card in the sport and his pres­ence in Ekurhu­leni has el­e­vated the sta­tus of the grand old golf tour­na­ment to an­other level.

McIlroy might be the big cat in the field‚ but there are plenty of young lions hop­ing to take him down this week. And there are a few oldies such as Ernie Els who are also not ready to sim­ply roll over ei­ther.

The Ul­ster­man‚ cur­rently ranked No 2 in the world af­ter win­ning the US PGA Tour’s Fedex Cup last sea­son‚ is here be­cause he is hon­our­ing a com­mit­ment he made to Els at the 2014 Ir­ish Open.

Els‚ the of­fi­cial SA Open host‚ en­cour­aged McIlroy to play in the world’s sec­ond-old­est golf tour­na­ment, af­ter The Open, when he was a guest of McIlroy’s own char­ity foun­da­tion over two years ago.

“Rory was very se­ri­ous about com­ing to South Africa when I told him he ‘owed me one’ at the Ir­ish Open‚” Els said. “I’m glad that he made the com­mit­ment so soon. His pres­ence will help the growth of the SA Open which has been do­ing so well over the last few years.”

The SA Open field boasts five ma­jor winners — Els‚ McIlroy‚ Nick Faldo‚ Retief Goosen and Dar­ren Clarke — and three for­mer world No 1s in Els‚ Faldo and McIlroy.

Els said on his web­site: “As you can imag­ine‚ my fo­cus is very much on try­ing to win my sixth SA Open ti­tle and I’m work­ing hard to try to make sure that I come out of the blocks fast in 2017 and gen­er­ate some early mo­men­tum.”

Els also paid trib­ute to for­mer SA Open cham­pion Wayne West­ner‚ who killed him­self last week.

“He was some player and prob­a­bly one of the best ball-strik­ers that I ever saw . . .” he said.

Among the best young tal­ent in the field are 2016 cham­pion Bran­don Stone‚ who also clinched the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship a month ago and Joburg Open champ Haydn Por­te­ous. —

Pic­ture: DAVID CAN­NON/GETTY IMAGES

CHECK THAT SWING: World No 2 Rory McIlroy in action dur­ing the pro-am for this year’s BMW SA Open Cham­pi­onship at the Glen­dower Golf Club yes­ter­day

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