"Hair" apparent McIlroy sets sights on Open

Mop-top marvel Rory McIlroy has set his sights on Padraig Harrington’s Open crown. And that could make him the teenage Holywood hotshot the hairiest Major winner in history as a new superstition takes hold.

The curly wonder, 19, confessed: “I haven't had my hair cut since Switzerland and I've played great since. I might just keep it.”

Nice one son. Gerry congratulates Rory.And why wouldn’t he after becoming the youngest player to make the world’s top 16 thanks to his stunning victory over a world class field in the Dubai Desert Classic.

McIlroy admits that he choked as he threw away the Swiss Masters at Crans sur Sierre more than five months ago.

But he’s since learned to slow down under pressure and massively improved his game by linking up in the summer with Harrington’s putting guru Dr Paul Hurrion and Ernie Els’ former caddie, Irishman JP Fitzgerald.

With new confidence on the greens and a top man on the bag he’s leapt more than 160 places up the world rankings since he finished seventh in last year's Irish Open and racked up his first win and another seven top-tens in his last 12 starts.

Now wonder he’s got no plans to head down to the local barber’s any time soon.

The only cut he’s interested in is the Friday afternoon mark that guarantees a pay day, though with €1.7m in the bank, he’s already switched his focus from money to Majors and a place in the world’s top 10.

Asked what he’d ask for if he could have a wish come true this season, he stared out to Belfast Lough and the Irish Sea beyond and said: “Win the Open. That would be awesome. You can nearly see Turnberry from here. It is only 40 miles away.

"It would be nice to keep that run going - Harrington, Harrington.... Keep the Claret Jug in the country for another while. But to be honest, I would take any one of the four Majors."

Returning to reality, he added: "In fact, I’d just take another win.”

McIlroy has played just one Major so far in his career and admits that the only contact he’s had with Augusta, Turnberry, Bethpage and Hazeltine has been through television and the Sony PlayStation.

That will all change this year and he could soon be a massive star in the US with his next seven outings all coming on American soil.

His American dream will start in the first round of the Accenture World Match Play Championship in Arizona on March 25.

And while he laughs along with the crowd when he says he’s already worked out that he’ll go to fifth in the world with a victory 7,800 yard Dove Mountain, you get the impression that he’s not really joking.

Setting his sights sky high, he said: “If I win the matchplay in a couple of weeks time that gets me up to fifth. That would be okay. So I have been looking at it.

“I just have to go out and try and put myself in position to win on Sunday. I think I have had eight top tens in my last 13 starts so if I can keep doing that and grinding out results, hopefully I can get into that top 10.

“Everyone says that my game would suit America. Hopefully it does. I am not sure. I have played a lot of junior golf out there and I hit it quite high and I do hit it quite long.

“Everything suggests that I should do pretty well out there. But it is uncharted territory for me so we will see what happens.”

He’s secretly counting down the days to his Masters debut at Augusta National in April, where his dad Gerry will caddie in the par-three tournament and he hopes to play a practice round with Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara.

But he’s almost embarrassed that O’Meara says he is a better ball-striker than Woods was as the same age and believes he still has a lot of improving to do.

He said: “If I can achieve half the things that Tiger has, I'll have had an unbelievable career. I mean I just want to keep going and see where I can go from here.

“Everything can get better. I can hit more fairways. I can hit it closer. But I think my short game is one aspect where I can improve quite a lot still.”

For now he’s happy to enjoy two weeks off so he can act like any other 19 year old or at least, try.

Dressed in a casual hoodie, blue jeans and a baseball cap, McIlroy is trying hard to be a normal kid who just happens to be brilliant at golf.

In fact, his first act on his return from Dubai was to pop down to his mum’s to get his laundry done.

He said: "I left my suitcase up to mum and dad's to get all my clothes washed then headed home. Had to catch up on a few episodes of 24.

“But looked in my fridge and there was nothing in it. So me and my girlfriend Holly went out to do a bit of shopping and people where coming up to me in Sainsburys

“It's great. Everyone wants me to do well and it is nice that I am recognised for doing well.”

Even a game of golf on the PlayStation is a different prospect these days as he is now a character in Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’09.

He said: "It looks nothing like me!"

But the baby-faced assassin will be taking no prisoners when he puts on his spikes and heads to the US for a seven-tournament run.

He’s got high hopes of making his mark on the PGA Tour and plans take a leaf out of Harrington’s book by playing on both sides of the Atlantic over the next few years.

He said: “I would like to be a member of both tours. I haven't taken my membership out this year.  Play your 15 over there and your 12 in Europe. That's 23 or 24 events a year. That's probably enough.”

Despite that he’s toying with the idea of buying a US base with Els’ former Florida home at the top of his hit list.

Then again, he could also move in next door to Tiger Woods.

He revealed: “I'll have a look at a few properties. I was speaking to Mark O'Meara and he's got a place in Isleworth. He said if he could help in any way, he would. I've got a couple nice contacts out there.”

McIlroy’s tour schedule for 2009 (* to be confirmed)

Week Ending
March 1st – WGC Accenture Matchplay, Tucson
March 8th – Honda Classic, Florida
March 15th – WGC-CA Championship, Doral
April 5th – Shell Houston Open, Houston
April 12th – US Masters, Augusta National
April 19th – The Heritage, Harbour Town, South Carolina
May 10th – The Players, Sawgrass
May 17th – 3 Irish Open, Baltray
May 24th – BMW PGA, Wentworth
May 31st – European Open, London Club
June 21st – US Open, Bethpage NY
July 5th – French Open, Paris
July 12th – Scottish Open, Loch Lomond
July 19th – British Open, Turnberry
August 9th – Bridgestone Invitational, Akron
August 16th – US PGA, Hazeltine
* August 30th – Johnnie Walker championship, Gleneagles
September 6th – Omega European Masters, Crans
September 13th – Mercedes Benz championship, Cologne
September 20th – British Masters, England
October 4th – Alfred Dunhill Links championship, Scotland
October 18th – Portugese Masters, Villamoura
* October 25th – Valencia Masters, Spain
* November 1st – Singapore Open, Singapore
November 8th – HSBC Champions, China
November 22nd – Dubai World Championship, Dubai