Champion basks in the praise of peers
THE SKY is the limit. Really. Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell – who each occupied the thrones reserved for Major champions before Rory McIlroy got to savour the experience – have their own lives and own games to focus on, but there was an acknowledgment that McIlroy’s career is only heading upwards.
“He’s going to be a superstar of the game, which he already is, but a real superstar,” said McDowell. “He’s going to be the player that kids look up to, that kids measure their wannabe games by. Ten years ago, it was Tiger Woods. It is still Tiger Woods to a certain extent but, now, we’ve got superstars like Rory McIlroy.
“I mean, (he’s) got great attitude with great charisma and great character. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. He’s great for the game, an absolute breath of fresh air for the game of golf,” added McDowell, who returns to action in next week’s Barclays Championship at Bethpage.
Harrington, whose British Open win in 2007 was the first of seven Major wins by Irish players in the past six years, claimed McIlroy was always “destined” to win Majors.
“If he didn’t, it would have been an underachievement or a letdown. He’s only doing what he was destined to do and delivering on that.
“Rory’s proving that, when he plays well, he plays like when Tiger played well,” Harrington added.
“Tiger turned up for a few years, and if he brought his A game, the rest of us struggled. Rory is showing that with his A game, everybody else is going to struggle to compete with him . . . and Tiger needs his A game to come up against Rory.”
As far as McIlroy’s caddie JP Fitzgerald was concerned, the runaway USPGA win was only a matter of time.
“I wasn’t surprised because I called it at the British Open. I said, ‘The way this guy is hitting the ball he is going to destroy fields’. He was playing that well in practice. I knew if it wasn’t going to be that week, it would be in the next few tournaments. I felt there was a huge performance in him.”
Fitzgerald – who previously worked for Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Ernie Els – took over as McIlroy’s bagman in July 2008, when the Ulsterman parted ways with Gordon Faulkner, his caddie for 14 months.
“It’s not a surprise to me to see him playing like that, I’m used to seeing him hit great shots in practice and on the course,” said Fitzgerald.
“You can see he has this ability now to hit shots like the four-iron he held up into the wind on Friday . That is the result of hard work and practice. It wasn’t a shot he had before, he’s been working on it and it’s paid off.”