Brian Keogh in Dubai
Rory McIlroy’s global fame has reached such proportions that his name is on the lips of every golfing aficionado from Tipperary to Timbuktu. But anyone who had forgotten that the Holywood lad is still just 18, was quickly reminded of that fact by the mischievous Lee Westwood in Dubai yesterday.
Partnering a highly impressive McIlroy in a wired-for-sound par-three charity exhibition at the Emirates Club, the current Order of Merit leader spied the Ulsterman stowing away what looked suspiciously like a pencil case in his cavernous tour bag.
"Is that your pencil case from school?" Westwood asked, to peals of laughter from the watching public and ‘opposition’ Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn.
A grinning McIlroy confirmed that the item in question, which his caddie uses to keep pencils and markers, was indeed from his school days at Sullivan Upper. But that’s about as far as the schoolboy antics go with Rory McIlroy these days.
Set to play in just his sixth event as a full member of the European Tour, McIlroy showed that he is wise beyond his years as he once again impressed the gathered media with a poised performance at his pre-tournament press briefing.
Unlike his South African namesake Sabbatini, who has made a habit of irking Tiger Woods, Ireland’s Tiger cub was the paradigm of diplomacy when asked about the possibility of a dream pairing with tournament favourite this week.
"You know, he's a pretty intimidating person," said McIlroy, who fleetingly met the world number one in California three years ago. "But to be honest, he's just like the rest of us. He's just tremendously good at golf.
"It would be great to be able to play with him this week sometime. But it's just last Sunday there (in the Buick Invitational), it looked like it was a walk in the park.
"He's pretty cool. I don't think I'll get intimidated by him. He's just really good. I've got a lot of respect for him and he's probably the best player that's ever lived.
"I met him at the Scotty Cameron studio in Carlsbad a few years ago. But it was only two minutes, ‘Hi, how you doing.’
"I'd love to get a chance to chat with him and see what he thinks and everything that went on early in his career and how he handled it and what he thought about it."
While McIlroy drew veteran David Frost and Swede Martin Erlandsson for the first two rounds, he knows he must learn from the mistakes he made in Dubai last year and Qatar last week if he is to land that dream weekend pairing with Woods.
"I played pretty well the first two rounds here last year and shot two 69s," McIlroy recalled. "I went three under for my round after 16 on the third day, as well, and I think that got me into the top 15 at that point, and I was actually tied with Tiger.
"Tiger was walking up 10, and I saw the scoreboard and he was on the same score as me which was pretty cool. But I dropped two in the last two holes which was pretty disappointing.
"All in all it was a great week for me. On the last day the shamaal (desert sand storm) came in and it was a pretty tough day and I shot a 76. But it was a great learning curve for me and will stand me in good stead for this career."
Last Sunday he was tied for eighth and within four shots of the lead entering the final round of the Qatar Masters but bogeyed his first three holes and shot 74 to Adam Scott’s 61. But he plans to learn from that too.
"After shooting 66 on Saturday, I felt as if I had a chance going into the last round if I got off to a fast start," said the world’s 190th ranked player. "I felt if I could get maybe four under after nine, I'd have a good chance. But I think after dropping three shots in the first three holes, I probably just tried a bit hard. If I can get myself into position like that again going into the last day this week, I'll hopefully know what to do."
Woods arrived in Dubai in the early hours of Tuesday morning and partnered Darren Clarke to third place in the par-three contest, where McIlroy and Westwood were second behind winners Henrik Stenson and Colin Montgomerie.
Woods will meet up with the Scot and Niclas Fasth on the 10th tee at 8.15 tomorrow morning. But McIlroy is waiting patiently for his chance.