Rory McIlroy thinking again over Britain or Ireland dilemma
RORY McIlroy has admitted that the reaction to comments he made about choosing who to compete for in the 2016 Olympics is making him think again.
Golf’s world No 1 had said he was leaning towards representing Team GB rather than Ireland because “the fact is I have always felt more British than Irish”.
That brought criticism from some people, mainly because he received funding from the Golfing Union of Ireland before turning professional in 2007.
As an amateur McIlroy did not have to make a choice because, as in rugby, Northern Irish golfers play for Ireland. The 23-year-old will not have to make a decision until just before the Rio Games, but he said in Atlanta yesterday: “After everything that happened last week it definitely makes me reconsider my position and reconsider a lot of things. It just really hit home how important it is for a lot of people and how important my success has been to them. I’ve had a lot of support from all sides – from people that call themselves Irish, from Northern Irish, to the whole of the UK, to people over here in the States. It hit home how my success is welcomed by everyone. It would be terrible for me to nearly segregate myself from one group that supports me so much.
“It’s four years away – I still have a bit of time to decide. But, I’m very, very appreciative and very grateful of the support that I get from everyone.
“There are not many people in my position that have to go through what I might have to go through in four years’ time, but it is what it is. I’m a golfer first and foremost and I just want to play well on the golf course. Hopefully people enjoy that and the entertainment that brings.”
McIlroy has unquestionably overshadowed Tiger Woods on the 2012 PGA Tour but laughs at suggestions that he now intimidates the American, a 14-times major winner.
“He’s [Tiger’s] got a new nickname for me, actually. He calls me ‘The Intimidator’,” a smiling McIlroy said as he spoke to reporters last night while preparing for this week’s Tour Championship. “How can I intimidate Tiger Woods? I mean, the guy’s got 75 or whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. He’s been the biggest thing ever in our sport.
“How could some little 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with a few wins come up and intimidate him. It’s just not possible. I don’t know where he got that from, but it’s not true.”
Former world No 1 Greg Norman of Australia sparked the debate earlier this week when he told FoxSports.com that Woods had effectively handed over the baton to McIlroy as the game’s leading player. “What I’m seeing is that Tiger’s really intimidated by Rory,” Norman said. “When have you ever seen him intimidated by another player? Never.
“But I think he knows his time’s up and that’s normal; these things tend to go in 15-year cycles. Jack Nicklaus took it [the baton] from Arnold Palmer. I took it from Jack, Tiger from me and now it looks like Rory’s taking it from Tiger.”
Woods also resorted to humour when asked about Norman’s “intimidation” comments.
“It’s got to be the hair,” the former world No 1 grinned, referring to mop-haired McIlroy.
Asked whether he had ever been intimidated by any other golfer, Woods replied: “No. No one is the size of [American football linebacker] Ray Lewis who is going to hit me over the middle. This is a different kind of sport. We go out there and play our own game, and see where it falls at the end of the day. This is about execution and going about your own business.”
While Woods has won three times on the 2012 PGA Tour, the 36-year-old American has not won a major since the 2008 US Open. McIlroy, in contrast, has triumphed four times this season, including his second major title at last month’s PGA Championship.
McIlroy, seeking a fourth victory in just five starts, tees off today in the opening round at East Lake Golf Club and says he has never produced a similarly dominant run of form.
“It’s been a great stretch,” he said. “To win three of my last four events, a major championship in there and two play-off events with some of the strongest fields of the year, it’s been great. Hopefully I can keep it going. If not, then hopefully I’ll have more stretches like this in my career.”
McIlroy underlined his superstar credentials with a stunning eight-shot victory in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Winning this week’s Tour Championship, where he would also clinch FedExCup play-off honours and the bonus of $10 million, would add extra gloss to a superb 2012 campaign.
Only 30 players are competing at East Lake this week in the final event of the PGA Tour’s regular season. Although McIlroy could secure the FedExCup honours by finishing as low as 29th, he has set his sights on victory. “If I win [the Tour Championship], I win [the FedExCup],” he said. “That’s the mindset I’m coming in with. I feel like I’m playing well enough to win. I know if I do that, everything else takes care of itself.”
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