IT MIGHT be easier to find a cocktail waitress who wasn’t seduced by Tiger Woods than to unearth the Irishman who doesn’t hope Rory McIlroy collects the baton of golfing greatness from the American.
In serving an impressive apprenticeship – one Major championship and the world number one slot, all before his 22nd birthday, is good going, McIlroy is primed to become the most successful sporting export in the nation’s history.
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This time last year, none of this seemed possible after a Masters meltdown saw him blow a big third-round-lead at Augusta and card an 80 – dropping six shots at 10, 11 and 12. The story of how he lost mattered more than how Charles Schwartzel won.
“It was a big crossroads for me in my career, and I was able to go down the right path and do the right things to put everything right,” said McIlroy. What he did right was appealing and showed plenty of humility. First, he faced the press in the immediate aftermath of his round and admitted that he blew it.
“That whole last day at the Masters was a bit of a blur,” he said. And then he faced his demons and confronted them. “When I look back now, I can see that my whole attitude completely changed from the Saturday to the Sunday. I came out and was trying to be this player that I’m not. I was trying to be this ultra-focused, tunnel-visioned guy, which just isn’t like me.”
But which is Tiger Woods.
“I think growing up watching him all those years – he gives out this aura where everything is just so focused,” McIlroy said. “It’s like, ‘I’m going to rip your head off on that first tee.’ But I quickly found out that isn’t me and it isn’t how I play my best golf.”
Instead by being himself, the player came of age and within a month had the US Open trophy sitting on his bedside table.
And that was when a fear dawned on us.
In becoming another golfing megastar like Woods, we fear McIlroy could turn into another golfing corporate machine like Woods.
Already commentators have started talking about how much he is worth rather than how he plays. His face is everywhere – on commercials, on billboards and on the sort of magazines which make the money from charting the sportsman’s descent from hero to zero. He has changed management and girlfriends in the last year – Caroline Wozniacki, the tennis star, replacing Holly, the girl from down the road.
It all seems to be pointing in the wrong direction but McIlroy insists he is happier than ever, that Wozniacki and he are a great couple, and though he doesn’t comment, he is also perfectly entitled to point out that his private life is his private business.
Yet once you accept the corporate dollar, you sell off some of your privacy. And once you indulge in serial tweets, an indulgence of your ego becomes apparent. Sadly – and rightly or wrongly – every sporting rise is followed by a fall. McIlroy is definitely destined for a rise. How he handles the descent on the other side of the mountain top is how well he behaves between now and then.
Woods is the prime example of how not to act. In becoming another Tiger, let’s hope McIlroy doesn’t become another Tiger.