He was the youngster from Holywood, near Belfast who won the world Under-10 golf championship. He was the man who reached world No. 1 and won four majors before his 25th birthday — one of only three players to have ever done so — with career earnings so far north of $60 million. And if he were to triumph at the Masters next year, McIlroy would become only the sixth player ever to have won all four of golf’s majors at some point in his career.
It’s been a meteoric rise, ensuring he’s exalted as Northern Ireland’s biggest star. He is well aware he was one of those hero-worshipping youngsters not so long ago. «I just thought, ‘Wow,’» he added. «He just hit the ball so far for someone so young and his swing was amazing.
He absolutely smoked this thing down the first hole and I was like ‘Really?’ He was very impressive.» Irishman Shane O’Donoghue, a long-time golf presenter, commentator and host, was equally stunned when he first saw McIlroy in action in 2004. «He’d just turned 14 and was clearly very different,» O’Donoghue told CNN Sport. «He looked like a cherubic little boy but played with an exuberance that was totally different. » Joining the paid ranks was like adding a spark to rocket fuel.
O’Donoghue has seen him grow from precocious talent into a global superstar, based in Florida with the huge mansion, fast cars and private jet. «Circumstances have changed phenomenally around him and he’s had to deal with all of that but he’s still the same Rory. At the heart of it he’s still Gerry and Rosie’s boy.» Despite the fame, wealth and celebrity status, the Holywood star is still very grounded with a close coterie of school friends. When he parted company with long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald in 2017, McIlroy turned to best mate Harry Diamond to shoulder the bag.
He’s had the same coach, former Holywood pro Michael Bannon, since he began the game using cut-down clubs. He just had the X-Factor. « McIlroy added the US PGA title in 2012 and clinched the Open at Hoylake, near Liverpool, England in 2014. Not only that, but dad Gerry was able to collect on a bet he and three friends had struck back in 2004 at odds of 500-1 that the young Rory would win the Open »within the next 10 years.
« A few weeks later McIlroy added a second PGA Championship title and was the hottest property in golf. Visit CNN.com/Sport for more news, features and videos JUST WATCHED How well does Rory McIlroy know his career? Replay More Videos … MUST WATCH How well does Rory McIlroy know his career? 01:37 But the major well has since dried up, a manifestation of a career punctuated more by bursts of brilliance than the relentless domination of Woods in his heyday. »He is a bit mercurial but that’s part of his normality,« says O’Donoghue. » Tiger Woods completes comeback to win Masters 02:09 McIlroy gave another honest assessment of his inner thoughts, describing himself as «brain dead» after a disastrous first round at the Open at Muirfield in Scotland in 2013.
«Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around out there and I’m unconscious,» he said. He still won his match against Keegan Bradley as Europe won the «Miracle of Medinah» in 2012. «He’s never lost that boyish quality and never lost the quality of just telling it like it is. » While they will be competing with a laser focus, McIlroy still plans to savor the experience.
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