McIl­roy back for another crack

Sunday Times - - Sport | Golf/Russia 2018 - By DAVID ISAAC­SON

● Rory McIl­roy has con­quered the world’s best on ev­ery ma­jor tour on ev­ery con­ti­nent he’s played on, ex­cept one — Africa.

The world No 7, who gave the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil a miss, is coming back for another crack at the Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge af­ter a nine-year hia­tus.

The last time McIl­roy par­tic­i­pated at Sun City, in 2009, he was a promis­ing 20-yearold in an elite field of just 12 play­ers.

Now the tour­na­ment is the Euro­pean Tour’s penul­ti­mate event in its two bonus at­trac­tions, the Race to Dubai and the Rolex Se­ries.

A good per­for­mance from Novem­ber 8-11 could be crit­i­cal to McIl­roy’s plan of win­ning the Race, which car­ries a $1.25-mil­lion re­ward for first place. It would be his fourth time, af­ter vic­to­ries in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

“I have been for­tu­nate to win the Race to Dubai on three oc­ca­sions and this year I want to give my­self ev­ery chance of win­ning it for the fourth time,” said McIl­roy, who is ly­ing fourth in the 2018 Race rank­ings.

Sun­shine Tour ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Sel­wyn Nathan said the event or­gan­is­ers were pay­ing no ap­pear­ance fee for the for­mer world No 1 to play in the $7.5-mil­lion tour­na­ment.

“He doesn’t cost us any­thing. he’s part of the Euro­pean Tour’s plan to add value to the Rolex Se­ries,” said Nathan, de­scrib­ing the golfer from North­ern Ire­land as one of the sport’s big­gest draw­cards for the youth.

“He’s the kids’ choice. You saw what hap­pened at the BMW South African Open a few years ago, how the kids just came out.

“They want to see this guy be­cause they can re­late to him. He’s not this big gi­ant of a man, he’s some­one they can re­late to. He’s got a great golf swing, he’s friendly to the peo­ple, he takes an in­ter­est in the kids, he’s a real su­per­star in re­spect of the kids and that’s where the fu­ture of our kids is.”

McIl­roy was part of a nail-bit­ing fin­ish at the 2017 SA Open as he du­elled English­man Graeme Storm in a play­off, los­ing on the third ex­tra hole.

Al­ready con­firmed for the NGC are Spa­niard Ser­gio Gar­cia, the vic­tor in 2001 and 2003, de­fend­ing cham­pion Bran­den Grace, South Africa’s first win­ner of this tour­na­ment in a decade, and Ge­orge Coet­zee, another pop­u­lar lo­cal hero.

In 2009 McIl­roy pulled out af­ter two rounds be­cause of a virus he had con­tracted in China not long be­fore. He had failed to break par on the Gary Player Coun­try Club lay­out, card­ing 73 and 76.

Since then he has won four ma­jor tour­na­ments, in­clud­ing two in 2014, the Bri­tish Open and the PGA Cham­pi­onship. His first was the US Open in 2011 and the sec­ond the PGA Cham­pi­onship in 2012.

McIl­roy needs to win the Masters to be­come only the seventh man to com­plete a ca­reer grand slam, and just the sec­ond nonAmer­i­can af­ter Player, the host of NGC 2018.

If McIl­roy can draw in­spi­ra­tion from the golf­ing leg­end it won’t be the first time he’s re­ceived help from South Africa.

He was given an in­vi­ta­tion by busi­ness­man Jo­hann Ru­pert into the 2007 Al­fred Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship, his sec­ond pro­fes­sional event, where he did enough to se­cure his Euro­pean Tour card.

And fin­ish­ing third at the SA Open in 2008 earned him an in­vi­ta­tion to the 2009 Masters.

He’s not this gi­ant, he’s some­one kids re­late to Sel­wyn Nathan

Sun­shine Tour ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor

Rory McIl­roy will play Ned­bank Chal­lenge.

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