McIlroy’s focus very much on the Majors despite dreams of being an Olympian
‘The Majors in our sport are the biggest and best prizes in the game . . . maybe one day the Olympics will be able to get up to that level’
Rory McIlroy during the Fota Island Pro-Am yesterday. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
There is something called the X-Factor, an indefinable something that projects both magnetism and box office appeal. And, no matter what he does, or where, Rory McIlroy – on or off the golf course – has that ability to be the star attraction, to be the centre of attention.
On the eve of the Irish Open at Fota Island, with continental sunshine producing a carnival-like atmosphere, the feel-good factor was magnified by McIlroy’s declaration that he would commit to Ireland for the 2016 Olympic Games.
The suddenness of the commitment caught many by surprise, yet seemed to add to the tournament’s appeal; as if another piece of a jigsaw had fallen into place.
McIlroy – reunited with his clubs after they had gone missing in transit after last week’s US Open – can now start to dream of playing in the Olympics, even if the Majors remain the ultimate goal.
As McIlroy put it, “[The Olympics] is still not as big as a Major championship, but it is up there. The Majors in our sport are the biggest and best prizes in the game . . . . maybe one day the Olympics will be able to get up to that level. With the first one now, it’s not quite up there. But it would still be a huge achievement [to win].”
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman’s decision to make his mind up on the matter was prompted, in part, by watching the World Cup unfold in Brazil. “It just got me thinking, maybe I should go ahead and get it out of the way and really look forward to to the Olympics in a couple of years time . . . . just weighing up everything and thinking back to the times that I played for Ireland, won a lot of titles representing Ireland, and I thought, ‘Why change that?’ Basically, [playing for Ireland] is just a continuation of what I’ve always done.”
FavouriteAnd, lest anyone forget, there is also the matter of a tournament to be won at Fota Island. McIlroy, the world’s number six, is the favourite; and with good reason. As winner of the BMW PGA championship last month, he has form, but he is also seeking to rebound from a disappointing weekend at Pinehurst where his bid to claim a second US Open faded away.
The difference between the two courses is extreme, the natural waste areas bordering the fairways and the baked, upturned greens at Pinehurst very different from the lush, green fairways and receptive greens at Fota Island. “I’ll be as aggressive as I can, [but] I am not going to be stupid. I’m not going to go at things or hit driver off the tee when you really shouldn’t. It’s definitely going to be a different test than it was last week . . . . being able to fire at a few more pins and have the ball stop a little bit quicker, it will be nice,” said McIlroy.
The course set-up – combined with the weather, with sunshine forecast – should enable very good scoring in a tournament which, for those not already qualified, has the bonus of offering up exemptions into next month’s British Open for three players who finish in the top-10 and who are not already exempt.
McIlroy doesn’t have to worry about booking his ticket to Hoylake but has other incentives. For instance, a win here would move him to the top of the Race to Dubai rankings. A win would also move him back into the world’ top-five. A win would also enable him to tick another box. “I think it’s a big goal in any golfer’s CV, being able to win your national Open is huge.”
He won’t have things all his own way – the home contingent includes fellow-Major champions Graeme McDowell, Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke, as well as the in-form Shane Lowry – but there is a strut about McIlroy that would suggest he will have a big say in the final outcome.