McIlroy an inspiration to Murphy

From Brian Keogh in Vilamoura

Rory McIlroy's blistering start to his career has inspired grizzled veteran Gary Murphy to believe that dreams really can come true.

After becoming the fastest player in history to earn his tour card, the Holywood teenager was the centre of attention when he swaggered onto the first tee at Vilamoura for this week's €3 million Portugal Masters.

Irish aces Gary Murphy, Paul McGinley and Damien McGrane welcomed a fellow Irishman into the tour fold while Players' Committee chairman Thomas Bjorn singled the Holywood hotshot out as "phenomenal" after witnessing a third round 66 in Madrid last week.

But no one is better qualified to appreciate the enormity of McIlroy's achievement than Murphy, who didn't earn his tour card until his fifth visit to the Qualifying School in 1999 and struggled to keep it last year.

Just five spots ahead of youngster on the Order of Merit despite playing 25 more events this year, Murphy has nothing but admiration for a player who can earn €268,030 from just three starts.

And he believes The Kid is an inspiration to every journeyman pro with dreams of winning his first tour event.

Making his 120th attempt to win this week, Murphy said: "I'm just glad he's Irish. If you get an 18 year-old kid who was won in three events what I have won in 28, he is obviously a lot better than me.

"Could he motivate the rest of us? Possibly. But you have got to compare like with like. He has won his tour card quicker than else has ever done it. For me was five years and he has done it in three weeks.

"But you know, I am just glad that he has done it. You like to see people living up to the hype because it makes everyone else's dreams seem more achievable. It's just great and I am delighted for him.

"I haven't played with the kid but I have heard the talk and I think everyone is a little bit surprised by what he has done in such a short space of time."

Bjorn joined the chorus of McIlroy admirers after playing with him in the third round of last week's Madrid Open.

But he called for patience of the tour's newest star, explaining: "He is an unbelievable golfer and he has all the ingredients you need to be one of the great golfers of the future. But he still needs his space and his time and to find his way.

"The more pressure he gets from the outside the more difficult it is going to be for him. Golfing wise he is phenomenal. He is a good kid and he will do well."

He's still a yardstick for the rest and Murphy glanced back several times as he played a practice round ahead of McIlroy and South African Anton Haig at Vilamoura's Victoria Club.

And he knows that if he finishes ahead of the Holywood player this week, there is a good chance that he will lift his first European Tour title.

Almost 12 months ago, Murphy had to wait until the end of season Mallorca Classic to secure his card.

But this week he is playing for his place in the season-ending Volvo Masters, which is limited to the top 60 money earners and past winners.

Murphy said: "I am playing well and my game is in good shape. If I finish ahead of Rory this week I think I'll do alright.

"The Volvo Masters is the only goal left for me although a win would get me into the HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai next month.

"I am playing well - a lot better this year that in previous years - but I have just not performed well in the bigger events and that's why I am down the Order of Merit.

"But at least I don't have the drama over my card that I had last year. I'm thankful for small mercies."

Ranked 68th in the money list, McGrane is also chasing his place in the 20th Anniversary Volvo Masters, where 70th ranked McGinley is assured a start this year as a past champion.

And both men were happy for the young Ulster kid after watching him clinch his tour card in double quick time.

McGrane said: "It's fantastic. Fair play to him. Hopefully he can go on to bigger and better things. He has proved many, many times that he has the game.

"I'd like to see him do really well. He is a great young man and with a bit of luck he will gel on tour and fit in.

"With a bit of luck he will be out here a long time and it is great to have him out here. The only danger is that he will slip away to America before too long."

McGinley has been keeping a low profile since his resignation as Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup deputy.

Asked about his young stablemate, McGinley said: "Good luck to him. He’s done really well and it’s good to have another Irish player contending. If he plays like that for Ireland it will be even better. I’d much prefer him to be Irish than any other country."