Rory McIlroy captured the Australian Open and a first victory of 2013 yesterday, a win he hopes “should silence” his many critics.
McIlroy has endured a nightmare year on and off the course but in the Sydney sunshine, the 24-year-old claimed a spectacular victory when he birdied the 18th hole to snatch the title away from US Masters champion and home favourite Adam Scott with the final stroke of the tournament.
“I feel embarrassed I’ve come here to Australia and ruined Adam’s goal,” smiled McIlroy, who had endeared himself to the home fans.
“But in saying that I just hope that this winning trend continues and he can fit me with the green jacket next April. I still have Tiger’s event to play next week but this win is a great springboard in 2014.
“There was a lot of criticism at the start of the year when I switched to Nike. This win should silence any further criticism. To take down someone of Adam Scott’s calibre, the Masters champion and one of the best players in the world, is a nice feeling. I’ve said all along it’s about building back the confidence and I’ve been gradually achieving that.”
McIlroy admitted he has learned valuable lessons from a testing 12 months when he had slumped from first to sixth in the world rankings against a backdrop of an equipment change and a legal battle with his former management company.
“I think I’m more experienced, more patient,” he said when asked what he had learnt this year.
“You know you have to go through the lows,” he added. “And I’m not saying it was a low this year, it’s not like I plummeted off the face of the earth. I’m still sixth in the world so it’s not too bad. It’s not the level that I feel like I can play to but I feel I’m getting back there, so it’s very pleasing.”
McIlroy admitted to a little guilt at the manner of his victory, which came when Scott bogeyed the last to give up a one-shot lead in a tournament he dominated.
Presented with his chance, though, McIlroy showed the nerves of a two-time major champion to drain a 10-foot putt and join the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as winners of the Stonehaven Cup.
“I thought worst case scenario I’d have a putt for a play off and then all of a sudden I have a putt for the win. I didn’t want to go extra holes,” he said.
“All I focused on in the putt was my routine. I didn’t do anything differently. I didn’t think about whether it was to win the Australian Open or whether it was to get the first win this year.”
After a sixth in Shanghai and a fifth in Dubai, McIlroy’s broke through for an 11th tournament victory and in the process secure only his second success outside of the European and PGA Tour’s as well as being the fifth occasion he’s come from behind to claim victory. It is believed McIlroy was paid $800,000 (€588,000) to compete in Sydney and if the record crowds were any indication then event organisers and sponsors certainly got their money’s worth.
So much so Golf Australia CEO, Stephen Pitt intends on having McIlroy back to defend his title in 2014 at the nearby Australian Club.
“It’s been a landmark Australian Open with everything you could have asked for with great leaders, great crowds and great golf, and at the end of the day we got a great new champion in Rory McIlroy,” said Pitt.
“He probably broke a lot of hearts out there as the Australian sporting public no doubt came out to see Adam’s ‘Triple Crown’ coronation but Rory is a very popular winner and we’d love to see him come back and defend next year. “Rory is a class act and a wonderful guy, and you sometimes forget he is only 24 years old. And now he’s won, and in terms of huge international players, Rory will now be our number one priority in looking to getting him back to Sydney.
“Of course, Adam came back to Australia as Australia’s first-ever Masters winner but you forget what a huge international golfing figure Rory McIlroy is in the world of golf. By his own admission he hasn’t had a great year and before this year he was rivalling Tiger (Woods) in terms of global popularity, and Rory is such a warm and likeable guy and he will surely be high on our list to come back next year.”
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