McIlroy backs Darren

By Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy has backed Darren Clarke to battle his way back to the summit of world golf.

And the teenage sensation will get to pick his mentor's brain today when the pair play a practice round together at The Oxfordshire.

Clarke has offered to help the Holywood hotshot, 18, prepare for next month's European Tour Qualifying School ordeal at the course where he won the Benson and Hedges International in 1998.

And McIlroy has no doubt that his future ISM stablemate is ready to begin his golfing comeback after a year of turmoil.

McIlroy said: "Since Heather’s death he has been extremely committed to seeing his boys are much as possible and I can understand why he is not playing his best golf.

"It annoys me sometimes when I hear people asking why he isn’t playing well. Imagine they had to go through what he’s gone through.

"He has done so well, he’s been very dignified and handled himself so well in front of the world’s media.

"He came out and played so well at the Ryder Cup and that showed what kind of character he is. It is has been incredibly tough for him and it is going to take more than a year to get over it, not that you ever get over something like that.

"I think he knew that it was going to take him time to get back and it is going to be hard for him now. It would be easier for him to just stay at home but it he is not like that.

“Everyone respects him for what he has had to go through. He has got a few tournaments coming up and it is just a matter of getting a bit of confidence.

“That 66 he shot in the US PGA in Tulsa was huge for him and I think he will build on that over the next few months."

McIlroy will make his professional debut in the Quinn Direct British Masters at the Belfry next month.

Before that he will bid farewell to amateur golf in the Walker Cup at Royal County Down and then tee it up in the first stage of the Q-School at the Oxfordshire from 11-14 September.

Getting through Stage One is vital for McIlroy and Clarke has offered to show him the ropes on a course where he won the B&H International nine years ago.

The pair met at Heathrow airport last night with Clarke putting McIlroy up at his Surrey home before driving up to The Oxfordshire for a practice round today.

Battling a niggling back injury, McIlroy says he won't be able to hit balls on the range until the end of the week.

But has no problem playing practice rounds and hopes to learn as much as he can from Clarke today.

He said: "The back is still quite sore. But I have been having physio and doing some exercises for it so it should be better by the end of the week.

"I can’t wait for the Walker Cup and I have got a few invites lined up for when I turn pro- hopefully the four or five events after the Belfry. But the Q School is very important and Darren offered to help me get to know the course.

"He gave me a lot of great advice before the first round of the Open at Carnoustie and hopefully this will be the same."