Rory reaching for holy Quail

WHEN Rory McIlroy created global headlines by winning the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, few could have imagined he would be without a tournament success 12 months later.

And yet, that’s where Rory, who celebrates his 22nd birthday tomorrow, finds himself as he defends an event renamed the Wells Fargo Championship over the same Quail Hollow course.

It’s not that he hasn’t maintained a high profile, having finished third in the British Open and the USPGA Championships and led with nine holes to play in theMasters, it’s more a case of victories escaping him with regularity.

Apart from the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009 and Quail Hollow this time last year, McIlroy has found it impossible to claim the spoils. This week offers him a wonderful opportunity to rectify the situation. Too much emphasis should not be placed on his collapse at Augusta or his failure to capitalise on a three-stroke lead in the final round of the Malaysian Open a week later. Remember, he missed three cuts immediately before Quail Hollow last year and was so depressed about the state of his game that he considered not competing.

Furthermore, the shot he described as “the most important of the entire week” was the long iron that finished close to the flag at his 16th for an eagle in the second round when he was two over par and the same number of shots outside the cut mark. The ensuing eagle achieved saw him into the weekend and the rest, as they say, is history.

A six under par 66 on the Saturday indicated his game was turning but better was to come on the Sunday. Out in 32, McIlroy burned up the back nine in 30 for a course record and become the youngest player since Tiger Woods to win on the US PGA Tour. It was all the more impressive given that Woods and Phil Mickelson were in the chasing pack.

The tributes ran into overdrive. Woods’s best pal Mark O’Meara commented that “Rory’s ball striking is probably better than Tiger’s at the same age. His technique is better.”

Mickelson agreed that “to win at 20 is incredible” and Woods himself stated that McIlroy “has all of the components to be the best in the world.”

An injured Woods won’t be there to prevent Rory bridging the 12-month gap this week but Mickelson is teeing it up along with most other leading Americans including Bubba Watson who maintained his forward march with a play-off victory over Webb Simpson in New Orleans on Sunday.

Lee Westwood, who copper fastened his number one spot in the world in Korea at the week-end, is a notable absentee.

But several other top Europeans including Martin Kaymer, Paul Casey and Pádraig Harrington, desperate to arrest his slide down the world rankings, will be in action.

THIS week is also notable for Pat Finn’s accession to the position of general secretary of the Golfing Union of Ireland.

Finn, a low handicap golfer from Thurles, has been assistant for the past 13 years to Seamus Smith who retired over the weekend having overseen numerous developments that have proven invaluable in maintaining Ireland’s reputation as one of the most innovative and progressive countries in world golf.

Smith was a noted journalist who served as sports editor of the Irish Press from 1987 until its closure in 1995. He was appointed the third general secretary of the GUI on the retirement in 1996 of Ivan Dickson. His predecessors in the position were Bill Menton (1949-1983) and Dickson (1983-1995).

The Union headquarters at the time of his appointment were located in Donnybrook and Smith was amongst those who believed they would be better served by being associated with a golf course where there would also be scope for expansion in the area of coaching.

Before being able to achieve that goal, he was very much to the fore as the Union launched a web site and the GolfNet system and set up a mobile office which has proven a priceless asset at the various championships staged throughout the country over the last 10 years.

All the time, Smith and senior union officers like secretary and treasurer Albert Lee and Rollo McClure were advancing the idea of a national headquarters which became a reality with the opening of the superb facility at Carton House, Kildare in 2006.

The academy at Carton will stand as a monument to the many outstanding achievements of Smith as GUI general secretary. And he is set to remain to the forefront of the game as incoming captain of his club, Clontarf, in their centenary year in 2012.

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