For only a second occasion this season Rory McIlroy confessed he could feel proud at the sight of his face appearing on advertising billboards and banners promoting this week’s Australian Open.
After a ‘wasted’ opening round, the tournament’s top overseas draw card delivered event organisers the assurance of record crowds over the final two days at Royal Sydney.
Masters champion Adam Scott is still at the controls following his course record opening effort and a steadfast second round 70 but McIlroy moved brilliantly into the co-pilot’s seat with his second equal lowest round of the season.
It has set-up a hopeful 36-hole head-to-head on the course located just a sand-wedge shot from the shores of Sydney Harbour.
And while Scott will draw on the support of a patriotic home crowd in his goal to become only the second player to capture the Australian ‘Triple Crown’, McIlroy is probably in a best position all year for a first success this season. If triumphant, McIlroy would become the first Irish golfer and only the second European-born player in the 104-year history of the tournament to win the Australian Open and lift the famed Stonehaven Trophy.
As well, it would be just the second time this year after his ‘Match at Mission Hills’ victory over Tiger Woods that McIlroy has lived up to an extensive billboard and banner promotion.
“It’s very satisfying when you come to a tournament as the headline act or one of the main attractions as you want to live up to that billing,” he said.
“For the most part this year that hasn’t happened wherever I’ve gone so it’s nice to reward the people that have invited me down here to Sydney, and have looked after me so well.
“That’s what they want at the end of the week to see your name up challenging for the title.”
Stephen Pitt, CEO of Golf Australia, echoed the sentiments of those instrumental in attracting McIlroy to Australia’s largest city: “It is a dream match-up for any tournament to have a player who is the reigning Masters champion and to have such an exciting player at Rory who has won two majors before the age of 25 now to be going head-to-head over the weekend,” said Pitt.
There had been controversy last year when it was reported McIlroy was being offered $US1.5m to tee up in the 2012 Australian Open at The Lakes but then Horizon Sports vehemently denied any such deal had been struck with Golf Australia.
It was only when he was walking from the Oak Hill locker room to the car park on the final day of the PGA Championship last August McIlroy confirmed to this journalist he was in fact competing this year in Sydney.
And if the reputed appearance fee of $1m is correct then Golf Australia and major sponsor Emirates Airlines is flying first class all the way to the bank.