Clarke tips McIlroy for Majors

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke believes Rory McIlroy can match Tiger Woods and become a major winner.

The Ulsterman watched on TV as amateur McIlroy, 18, brilliantly birdied the final hole at Carnoustie and emulated Woods by winning the silver medal for the leading amateur.

And mentor Clarke immediately joined the chorus of stars praising the teen sensation from Holywood.

Clarke said: "He is a potential major winner. I played with Tiger at Lytham in 1996 when he was an amateur and Rory is almost as good as Tiger was then.

"It was a magnificent performance. I have known how good he is going to be for a quite some time.

"I have been closely monitoring his progress and I know how good he is. It is not a surprise to me what he has done at Carnoustie.

"He is an unbelievable talent, a great ball striker and has a very good attitude and temperament. He is definitely one that is going to go far."

Woods finished ten shots behind winner Tom Lehman at Lytham in 1996 on his way to 22nd place.

But he has since gone on to take 12 major titles and McIlroy is destined to become a player in that mould according to all his playing partners this week.

Final round playing partner Scott Verplank, 43, reckons McIlroy will go far with an old head on young shoulders.

After shooting a closing 78 to McIlroy's 72, the two -time Ryder Cup star said: "He is going to be a fine player. In fact, he already is.

"He's 18 years old, looks about 14 but plays like he's 28. I would expect to see him become an accomplished player. I told him that by the time he comes to the US I will already be on the Champions Tour.

"He does everything very well. He is an excellent putter. We played in some pretty tough conditions there for 12 or 13 holes.

"It was not good and he hung in there - made a lot of nice up and downs. When the weather cleared a little bit he played really well."

Verplank was no slouch as an amateur either, winning the 1985 Western Open at 19.

The Oklahoma veteran went to college with Irish star Philip Walton.

But he believes that McIlroy is an even better player than the Dubliner, who holed the winning putt in the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill.

Verplank added: "I went to college with Philip Walton for one year and it is hard to compare them because guys hit the ball so far now.

"But I would have to say that this guy is a little bit better. He is pretty solid, he does everything very well. He plays eight or ten years beyond his age. I would expect him to do very well."

Swede Henrik Stenson, who played with McIlroy in the first two round, also see as star in the making.

Stenson said: "He has it all and I think we will hear a whole lot about him in the future. He is a fantastic player.

"He is fearless and a great ball-striker. He also has a great short game and is a great putter."

Former US tour star Bobby Clampett, a TV pundit with the Golf Channel, believes McIlroy is already a top 50 player.

He said: "I love this kid. Watching him play yesterday, he’s got flair and a tremendous golf swing. I’m going to enjoy watching his career as it unfolds.

"With his golf swing, if he were to turn professional right now, he’d be top 50 in the world."