McIlroy ready to connect missing links

Manchester United mad Rory McIlroy will partner football legend Sir Bobby Charlton in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

And while Ulster teenager wasn’t born until 16 years after Charlton’s last game at Old Trafford, he’s learnt enough in his first year as a professional to become a Bobby dazzler this week.

The Holywood hotshot, 19, hit headlines around the world last term when he finished third at St Andrews to secure his tour card in just his second start as a pro.

Now McIlroy looks ready to go one better than his play-off defeat in last month’s European Masters and he can’t wait to lift that maiden title.

Reflecting on his first year as a pro, McIlroy said: “I’ve learnt so much since joining the Tour - I’ve been to loads of new places and met some lovely new people and I’m really enjoying experiencing all the different cultures.

“I’d say the highlight of the year so far has been playing so well at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland. Although I was disappointed to lose out in a play-off, I recorded my best ever finish as a professional and I can take a lot out the experience.

“I led the tournament from day one right up until the final round and played really well all week. I know I can go on from here and win tournaments and I can’t wait to get that first title under my belt.

"I feel comfortable on the threes course here and links golf is something that's always appealed to me, so it's all good."

McIlroy finished just three shots behind winner Nick Dougherty last year - opening with a 71 at Carnoustie and then adding three sub-70 round as St Andrews and Kingsbarns to earn a cool €211,000.

And while he’s missed 12 of 24 cuts in his first full season on tour, he’s earned €504,000 and learnt enough about his game to dream of a breakthrough win this week.

“I’ve had a great season so far this year. I’m in the top 50 on the European Tour Order of Merit and I’ve achieved all the goals I set for myself.” Rory McIlroy

Looking back on his first year, McIlroy said: “I’ve had a great season so far this year. I’m in the top 50 on the European Tour Order of Merit and I’ve achieved all the goals I set for myself so I’m really pleased with the way things are going.”

Victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links, where he is rated a 50-1 shot by the bookies, would make him the third youngest winner in European Tour history and just the sixth teenager to pull it off after South African Dale Hayes, Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia, England's Paul Way and Australian Aaron Baddeley.

His putting coach, Dr Paul Hurrion, certainly believes he has the talent to do it.

While McIlroy missed two short putts that cost him the European Masters last month, Hurrion believes the Ulster ace can be just as good a putter as star pupil Padraig Harrington.

Hurrion said: “The great thing for me is that Rory knows exactly what he did wrong in Switzerland. From my point of view, I couldn’t have asked for any more.

“My philosophy is that the players have to take ownership of their own stroke because I can’t be with them day in and day out. And certainly not when they are coming down the stretch.

“The next step is see how much Rory can learn from that experience and he is certainly going to have lots more opportunities.

“He only has to look at someone like Padraig and the 30 second places he has had. How you learn from those will tell how far you can go and I don’t see why Rory can’t become as good a putter as Padraig is.”

Winner of the title in 2002 and 2006, Harrington knows that a third Dunhill victory would sew up his second Order of Merit title.

Paired with JP McManus in the pro-am section, the Dubliner is one of seven Irishmen battling for the €545,811 top prize.

The three time Major winner leads the Order of Merit by just €228,317 from Ryder Cup team mate Lee Westwood with Robert Karlsson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell all within striking distance.

McDowell will team up with R&A Chairman Ian Webb with Jiménez partnering Hollywood star Hugh Grant and Darren Clarke paired with Alfred Dunhill Links Championship chairman Johann Rupert.

Paul McGinley has linked up with South African businessman Rurik Gobel, Peter Lawrie has taken on his brother Ian and Damien McGrane will again partner JP McManus’ wife Noreen.

Gary Murphy will be looking to win the team event with the help of American businessman Scott De Sano and earn enough cash to move into the top 60 on the money list who qualify for November’s Volvo Masters.