Rory McIlroy acknowledging the cheers of the crowd on the 18th yesterday. Inpho photo.
By Ray O’Hanlon
If Rory McIlroy’s emotions were a match for the weather he would have been shedding hailstones.
But the weather was ancient history the moment that McIlroy sank his final putt for an eagle and laid claim to the Irish Open golf title at the K Club in Straffan, County Kildare yesterday.
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It was a first for the recently turned 27-year-old who must have dreamed of this moment for most of those years, but who would win both the U.S. and British Opens before capturing his own national title.
And if it was an emotional day for McIlroy, it was also a catharsis for Irish golf and the legions of Rory fans who had turned up at the K Club to cheer on their hero who had not only never won the Irish Open, but who had failed to qualify for weekend play the last three years.
Sunday’s win then – the first of this year – could be the key to opening the next chapter of McIlroy’s extraordinary career.
“I don’t usually get emotional winning tournaments. I’m obviously over the moon and very happy, but I had to hold back the tears there on the 18th green.
“And even I started to choke up a little bit walking off the green,” McIlroy told reporters after his triumph over his opponents and the weather which, over the four days of the tournament had delivered not only the classic Irish four seasons in one day but, at one stage in the final round, two seasons on different parts of the golf course.
The weather, which included hail, thunder and lightning on Sunday, indeed led to calls from some players, notably Shane Lowry, for the Irish Open to be moved to high summer.
But of course high summer in Ireland could be May as much as July.
This time it wasn’t, but McIlroy and his legions of followers won’t be bothered.
“I kept telling everyone, including myself, that my game was close,” McIlroy said.
“It was there, but I just needed something to click. The way I played the last three holes. It was the turning point in the tournament, but it could also be the turning point in my season.
“You just need something like that to click, and I feel like you’re off and running.”
McIlroy will be taking a break this week and a pass on the European Tour’s BMW Championship.
He will be returning to the U.S. for the upcoming Memorial Tournament – in Dublin, Ohio.
Meanwhile, viewers in the U.S. were treated to a couple of interesting moments from the Golf Channel which broadcast the Irish Open over the four days.
At one point during the final round telecast a camera focused on two men in light blue windbreakers.
The shot lasted for longer than perhaps the commentary team expected and one commentator clearly felt compelled to say something.
“Two of our friends from the European tour,” he said.
One of the “friends” was Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
At another point in the broadcast, the screen displayed a list of the players that would be competing in the upcoming Rio Olympics.
While McIlroy’s name on the leaderboard was accompanied, as it always is, by a Northern Ireland flag, the flag beside his name on the Olympic list was the Irish tricolor.
An Irish Open for all of Ireland indeed.
See a full report on McIlroy’s triumph, and all the rest of the Irish golf news, in this week’s issue of the Irish Echo.