McIlroy to unite with Man U fans for major party

The best golfer on the planet will bid to sprinkle some of his winning magic around Old Trafford this weekend when he indulges in his other sporting passion — Manchester United.

Four-time major winner McIlroy will bring the USPGA’s Wanamaker Trophy and the iconic Claret Jug from his British Open victory to United’s opening game of the Premier League season at home to Swansea.

The 25-year-old will also spend some time in New York and at home in Belfast this week as he squeezes in as much as possible into seven days of down time.

“I’m going to enjoy this week. It’s been a great summer. I’m not sure if I’m ever going to have another summer like this so I have a week off and I’m really going to enjoy it.

“I’ll be back home in Northern Ireland at the end of the week. I don’t know if I can parade the Claret Jug and the Wanamaker at the same time at Old Trafford on Saturday but I’ll try.

“That would be a great thrill. Then return to the States and get ready for the FedEx Cup. It’s been an incredible week of golf and one that I’ll always cherish. And I’m going to share it with the people that are really close to me.”

The Irish superstar has been rewarded for his loyalty to his close circle of friends, aides and trusted advisers with a sensational run of three wins in as many tournaments, including two majors.

Despite criticism of his decision to stand by his caddie JP Fitzgerald, and his coach Michael Bannon, they have formed a key inner circle of confidantes that make up Team McIlroy. His father Gerry and manager Sean O’Flaherty are never more than a few steps away when he steps outside the ropes.

McIlroy also delivered an emotionally-charged thank you to his watching mother, Rosie, after winning the Open Championship at Hoylake last month.

Gerry, a scratch golfer in his younger days, used to take his toddler son to watch him hit balls at their local course. He later worked in the bar at the same Holywood club, one of the many jobs he and Rosie took to support Rory’s budding amateur career.

When Rory won the US Open in 2011 — on Father’s Day — fellow Ulster man Darren Clarke knew where much of the credit should go.

“Rory’s parents are the biggest reasons he is the way he is,” said Clarke. “Gerry and Rosie are such normal, down-to-earth and genuinely nice people. They have sacrificed a lot for their son — as most parents of pro golfers have — and I know he is very grateful.”

Added his quietly-spoken coach Bannon: “I’ve never seen anything as impressive as the way Rory can strike a golf ball. It’s the purity of the strike. He hits it different. Maybe Tiger Woods or some other great players were similar but I haven’t seen it. I understand why people want to watch him play because he’s so different.

“There’s something in there you can’t quantify, you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s the X-factor. It’s not definable. It’s a combination of everything. Rory’s swing looks great. It flows great and there’s great rhythm, stability and balance.

“The way the ball is going off the clubface is just fantastic. Once I’d watched him play, I wouldn’t want to watch anybody else hit the ball, it’s so good.”

President Michael D Higgins believed McIlroy was capturing the imaginations of people, not just across the island of Ireland, but all around the world.

In his home club of Holywood, no-one was inclined to disagree. Club general manager Paul Gray said: “It is legendary stuff.”

Mr Gray said: “I cannot believe he actually won that. To see someone who has grown up here on our own course do well is fantastic. To do what Rory has done is hard to believe, at times you have to pinch yourself.”

Club pro Stephen Crooks has lauded him as a once-in-a-generation player and predicted he could go on to win eight majors.

Mr Crooks has said Ireland may not see another golfer of the calibre of the precocious schoolboy who rose to the very top. He has spent the last 14 years at the club and remembers when McIlroy was a 12-year-old boy whose only aim was to get on the greens with his clubs.

McIlroy has become the third youngest player of the modern era, after Woods and Jack Nicklaus, to win four of golf’s biggest prizes, while he also becomes the first man to win back-to-back majors since Padraig Harrington in 2008.

Team McIlroy can expect a windfall through endorsements linked to his growing status. The prize for the USPGA win was €1.5m. He already has a 10-year $250m (€185m) Nike contract in his pocket.

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