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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK
The real McIlroy

By Matt Slater
BBC Sport at Carnoustie

Rory McIlroy
McIlroy looks to be headed for the very top
For a player who was as "nervous as a kitten" on Carnoustie's first tee, Rory McIlroy proved himself to be a tiger in the making with a remarkable first round at the 136th Open.

The 18-year-old amateur from Holywood, Northern Ireland, carded the day's only bogey-free round - a three-under 68 - to finish just three shots off Sergio Garcia's first-round lead and one shot ahead of golf's biggest cat, Tiger Woods himself.

According to his caddie Gordon Faulkner, McIlroy's first ever round in a major could have been even better.

"He probably left a couple of shots out there," Faulkner told BBC Sport.

"But it won't bother him too much. His temperament is that good. He's about 15 years ahead of where he should when it comes to the mental side of golf."

This was confirmed when an unflappable McIlroy faced a packed interview room. Not remotely fazed, he told the audience a bogey never came into his mind.

"I don't think I had that many bad shots to put myself in a position to make bogeys," he added.

"I just went out there with the mindset that I'm going to enjoy this and I'm going to learn as much as possible from (playing partners) Miguel (Angel Jimenez) and Henrik (Stenson).

"If I play well, I play well. If I don't, I'm sure I'll learn something, anyway. Overall, it was a really good day."

He is not the type to chase pay cheques, he wants to win things

McIlroy's caddie Gordon Faulkner

Mother Rosie and father Gerry certainly thought so. They were waiting to congratulate Rory by the scorer's hut only to be cut short by an insistent BBC TV producer that Gary Lineker wanted a few words.

"It was an incredible day," said Rosie McIlroy. "Totally above all of our expectations."

"Although he has been playing really well of late," chipped in a justifiably proud dad Gerry.

Like so many sporting prodigies, Rory was introduced to the game by a sports-mad father. A scratch player at Holywood Golf Club, Gerry got Rory swinging a club at two.

Rory was a scratch player by the age of 12. His handicap now is plus six and he is a two-time Irish amateur champion and current European amateur champion.

He also holds the course record of 61 at Royal Portrush, so he can play a bit of links golf.

"I know how to hit the wind shots that some of the Americans can't play," he confirmed, before quickly adding, "but everyone here is a good player, so I'm sure they know how to hit the shots."

606

As tidy as he was on the links, he was equally polished with the press. But then McIlroy has been news back home for years.

"I've sort of grown up with the media, I suppose. I have learned how to deal with it," he explained.

"I think I've been getting interviewed since I was about seven or eight years old. I'm pretty good at this talking thing, I think."

And this golf thing, I think.

If you can often tell a person's character by the company they keep, you can assess a young golfer's ability by the mentors that advise them. McIlroy has two heavyweights in his corner, Darren Clarke and Nick Faldo.

Clarke spotted McIlroy's ball-striking abilities at 10 and has provided counsel since Rory turned 13. It was Clarke, in fact, who persuaded the younger man to pass up the offer of a scholarship at Tennessee State University.

"Darren just felt that Rory didn't need that experience at the stage he was at with his golf," Gerry McIlroy revealed.

"He was all set to go and they were really keen to have him, even at 16, but I think the last year or so has shown that Darren was right."

Rory McIlroy
McIlroy shakes hands with Henrik Stenson's caddie, Fanny Sunneson

Faldo, who has a growing reputation as a nurturer of young British talent, has also been crucial to McIlroy's development.

"The thing I've learned most from him is course management," said McIlroy.

That was evident on Thursday. McIlroy opened with four solid pars before holing a 15ft birdie putt at the 5th. He then missed a birdie putt at six before showing great maturity, and no little skill, to save his par at the 7th.

"He got a terrible flier from the light rough," explained Faulkner. "He actually hit a nine-iron 213 yards when we had 173 to the flag. You just can't help those sometimes.

"But that is the thing with Rory, he is very calm. He simply got on with it and made a great par. He did it at 12 as well."

Caddies are often excellent judges of a player's chances of making it (and making them money).

Faulkner, who was introduced to McIlroy by Clarke and has worked for Wayne Riley and Gordon Brand jnr in the past, has no doubt that his man has the right stuff.

What has most impressed me most about him is his willingness to learn

Gordon Faulkner

"For me it's not a question of if, it's a question of when," he said.

"Not only does he have all the shots, he has this great attitude. He is up for the fight. He is not the type to chase pay cheques, he wants to win things.

"I've watched him during his practice rounds with the likes of Trevor Immelman, Niclas Fasth and Robert Allenby, and he hasn't looked out of place.

"What has most impressed me most about him is his willingness to learn. When I first saw him play he used to go for the flags all the time.

"That's fine at easy courses where it just becomes a putting contest. But on proper courses like this one, you have to play to spots on the green and pars are often good enough. He did that beautifully."

Waiting alongside his family behind the 18th green - to which Rory had just played a sumptuous two-iron that travelled 230 yards into the wind to set up a birdie chance he could not quite convert - was leading golf agent Chubby Chandler.

Which leads to the inevitable question that follows any stunning display by an amateur: when are they turning pro?

Gerry McIlroy said the plan has always been to wait until after the Walker Cup at Royal County Down - which is only a 40-minute drive away from home - and then have a crack at winning a European Tour card.

His first competitive round at the hardest course on the Open rotation would suggest that is a formality.

And hopes of winning the Silver Medal for the leading amateur also look very good - he has a lead of six shots over his nearest rival.

What remains to be seen, however, is his chance of emulating Justin Rose's 1998 display at Birkdale as a 17-year-old when he finished tied for fourth.

"I think if he can do it at that age (just short of his 18th birthday) I can do it as well," said the young pretender. "That's probably going to be my mindset for the next few days."

And as we already know, that mindset is far in advance of his years. Garcia and Woods want to keep an eye out for this lad. If not this week, certainly in a week in the not too distant future.



SEE ALSO
The Open day one photos
19 Jul 07 |  Golf
Open quotes of the day
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Taming the Tiger
19 Jul 07 |  Golf


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