DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – I’ve seen the future of European golf and it is in good hands.
Those hands belong to Rory McIlroy.
There have been many incidents this season that have made McIlroy stand out from the crowd, but perhaps the most telling moment came in the final round of the Dubai World Championship.
McIlroy was the only player in the field to birdie the ninth hole, proving he has gears most European Tour pros don’t have.
The uphill, par-4 ninth on the Earth Course plays 499 yards. The pin during final round was tucked on the left side of the green just over a little mound. Getting close to the hole was well nigh impossible, which is why most players bailed right for the fat part of the green.
Not Rory. He took on the flag with a 5-iron and stopped the ball 18 feet from the flag. That drew gasps from Ian Poulter.
“No one should have been able to birdie the ninth today, not with that pin position,” Poulter said. “If I had gone at that pin with a 4-iron there is no way I would have been able to stop the ball on the green. Yet, he has the talent to cut a 5-iron up there and land it close to the pin. That’s class.
“He is impressive. He’s got another gear that most players don’t have.”
Poulter got a close look at McIlroy’s talents when they were paired together for the third round of the recent Hong Kong Open.
“I was driving the same distance as him off the tee for most of the round, but when he decided he really wanted to, he could hit it another 30 yards. He’s got another gear, and it’s quite impressive to see.”
Most frightening for the rest of world golf, is that the wonder kid still has some work to do on his game.
“His pitching, for example, isn’t where it should be right now,” Poulter said. “But he’s only 20. He’ll sort that out and then he’ll be unstoppable when he is on his game. He definitely has the chance to become world No. 1 in future.”
For what it’s worth, I think McIlroy has to become a better putter. It was a part of his game that held him back in amateur golf, such as the time he three-putted the final green of the 2007 Lytham Trophy to lose to Lloyd Saltman. Or the three putts he took on Royal County Down’s 18th green in the 2007 Walker Cup to lose a Day 1 singles match to Billy Horschel. Or the short putt he missed last year on the 18th green in Switzerland to lose the European Masters.
I hope he doesn’t go the same way as Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, two other can’t-miss kids who have missed so far because of putting strokes that don’t complement the rest of the their games.
Lee Westwood also pointed to a psychological battle McIlroy lost here in Dubai. The pair played together in the first round and Westwood shot 66 to McIlroy’s 68. Afterwards, Rory said he was glad he didn’t have to play with Lee the next day.
“There’s nothing worse to say than that if you’re Rory, and he will learn from it,” Westwood said. “I wouldn’t have said it. Sometimes what you say off the course and the mind games you play are as important as the pressure you can put on people on the golf course.”
McIlroy will learn from such experiences. As he said, this year has been a huge learning curve. To compete for the title of European No. 1 at age 20 is a phenomenal achievement.
Phenomenal for him, but more importantly for the European Tour. In McIlroy it has a bona fide contender to become future world No. 1.