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McIlroy's Coming of Age

My first sight of Rory McIlroy was of a diminutive 13-year-old with a cherubic face beneath an unruly mop of hair, standing on the tee of the short seventh at Portmarnock.
“OK, Rory,” said Darren Clarke at the launch of his foundation weekend, “show us what you’ve got.” The response was a beautifully struck 7-iron shot of about 160 yards to within 8 feet of the pin. Whereupon, Clarke remarked with a grin: “Look out for this kid.”
That was on a bleak November day in 2002 when the thought occurred that he might be physically too small to realise the full potential of those precocious skills. Now, those gifts have proved to be so remarkable that with an average, even slight frame, he is one of the longest hitters in the game and at 25, the proud possessor of three major titles.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his latest triumph is that it looked as if it was achieved without any obvious change of attitude on his part. He remains the same willful and stubborn Rory who, at a particularly low ebb in his career, publicly declined to ask an amenable Dr. Bob Rotella for help, after missing the cut at Muirfield last year.
His willful nature also led him to effectively manage his own destiny, after a spell with Chubby Chandler’s ISM was followed by a move to Horizon Sports with which he is currently involved in a protracted legal battle. And it explains how he has remained faithful to his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, who came in for considerable criticism after McIlroy’s collapse in the 2011 Masters.
Fitzgerald was working for Ernie Els when he first noticed his future employer during the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie, where McIlroy won the Amateur Medal. “On TV, I saw Rory hit a 2-iron second shot of 230 yards into the wind to the last,” the caddie recalled. “What really impressed me was that it was hit so high, it stopped on the green almost where it landed. I later made a point of telling him: ‘That was a special shot.’ ”


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