An inspired McIlroy flirts with history

July 15, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland --  Rory McIlroy's flirtation with a major championship record began and ended on the 17th hole on Thursday. No one could count on a player birdieing a 495-yard par 4 that has been stretched and twisted to punishing proportions.

Then McIlroy, seven-under par at the time, sent a 6-iron to 4 feet, and you realized he could shoot 62.

Then he missed the putt, and you realized he couldn't.

"It sort of entered my mind on 17 that 62 would have been the lowest round in a major," McIlroy said. "That's probably why I missed the putt."


*(Photo by Getty Images) *

In a sense, McIlroy's 2010 season has followed a similar pattern. Still only 21 but already subject of considerable expectations, one might have guessed McIlroy still needed some seasoning before emerging as an outright star.

Then he fired a closing 62 to win the Quail Hollow Championship, and you realized he was already there.

Then he missed the cut in the Players Championship and the U.S. Open and you wondered if he wasn't.

His opening round at the Old Course, a 63 that matched the major record set on 24 other occasions, provided another compelling twist. If it was a venue that he already developed an affection for during the annual Dunhill Championship (he has never shot higher than 69 here) it was also his first chance to keep pace with his friend and countryman Graeme McDowell, who claimed last month's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The two played together in a casual round last week at Royal County Down, and McIlroy's fresh motivation was apparent.

"It's great to see the sort of inspiration that the like of me winning at Pebble can bring to your friends and your colleagues," McDowell said.

Said Chubby Chandler, McIlroy's agent: "If Rory wins this week, to me it's probably the most obvious thing in the world because his mate's won. McDowell's win at the Open, there's nothing that will fire up a young like Rory than McDowell winning."

After holing out for his 63 with a birdie on 18, McIlroy might be a quarter of the way there. Reluctant not to get ahead of himself, he was also unambiguous about his intentions.

"I wouldn't like to be the only Irishman at the Ryder Cup without a major," McIlroy said. "Graeme's win definitely gave me a lot of belief and a lot of confidence knowing if he can go out and win a major, there's no reason why I can't go out there and have good chances to win some of the others."

*-- Sam Weinman *