Rory McIlroy loves being the centre of attention on the golf course. Off it, he likes to keep a low profile.
And with Tiger Woods an absentee at Sandwich in next week’s Open, the US Open champion is the man of the moment in every sense.
It was significant then that his much-publicised practice rounds at Royal St George’s, which his management team said would take place today and tomorrow, will not be taking place after all. Why? Because he played the Open venue on Tuesday and Wednesday, avoiding a potentially huge media scrum at the Kent venue.
The Holywood star won’t reappear in public until he gives his Open Championship press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Who knows, he may even have that rescheduled and manage to stay out of the limelight until Wednesday.
His handlers are taking every step possible to shield their man for as long as possible and give him time to recover from his US Open hangover.
And while his friend Graeme McDowell knows from experience how difficult it can be to go to the Open as US Open champion, he also knows that he’s not Rory McIlroy.
“It’s going to be very hard for Rory when he turns up to be concentrating on the Open Championship,” McDowell ventured ahead of the Barclays Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. “He’ll still be living three or four weeks ago at Congressional.”
McIlroy’s decision not to play in the three weeks between Congressional and Sandwich has been questioned by senior players like Padraig Harrington and Colin Mongtomerie, who fear he could be left battered by the back-slapping congratulations he’s sure to get from his peers.
“I think I remember talking about champagne swings this time last year,” McDowell said. “A lot has been made of Rory taking three weeks off, but there’s probably two sides to the argument. Being at home he’s had two weeks to get the celebrating out of the system and I know he’s had a pretty good time.
“I’m sure this week will be sort of getting the business head screwed back on again. I know he’s going to spend a couple of days at St George’s and I think he’ll be reasonably ready to go.”
“It’s just a matter of how he deals with the mental stuff - the attention from everyone. That was the bit that was difficult for me. I found that very hard. It’s great, of course, but it’s overwhelming.”
McDowell quickly recognised, however, that what was overwhelming for him might not be overwhelming for McIlroy.
“It would be very difficult for me to tell him what to do. He’s been groomed to be a superstar since he was four or five years old.
“I certainly wasn’t that way. I was a bit of a late bloomer but Rory should be able to handle this pretty well. This is what he was born to do.
“I think he had a couple of wild nights out in Belfast but he’s had two weeks to get the celebrating out of his system.
“It’s just a matter of how he deals with the mental stuff, with the attention from everyone. I found that very hard, it’s overwhelming. But knowing Rory, he’ll be ready to go.”
McIlroy updated his weblog on Wednesday evening and explained exactly why he decided to take three weeks off after his Congressional win.
Answering the criticism levelled at him from the likes of Colin Montgomerie, he wrote:
Some people may have wondered why I chose to go from one major straight to another without anything in between and the answer is simple. Because of what happened at Congressional and the way it became such a big deal, I wanted to get everything out of the way and sorted so that when I did start playing again I could just concentrate on golf.
If I had gone to France I just would not have been able to practice or prepare properly. Every time I play I want to go out there with a chance to win and that wouldn’t have happened. There were so many commitments and so much Media to do that I would have not been able to give my best so I decided to wait until I was absolutely ready.
I didn’t touch a club for 10 days after the US Open and then after just hitting balls on the range at home it did feel good when I finally got out on the course again. That was at Wentworth on Monday when I did a company day for Jumeirah and then I went down to Royal St. George’s on Tuesday and Wednesday so that I could get a good look before too many people were there.
The practice was great because we had one calm day and one when the wind got up so I got a great feel of what we can expect. It wasn’t my first visit because I remember playing the 2005 Home Internationals there and also the British Amateur the following year. And, more important, I like the course.
Some people think it’s a bit quirky in places, but I believe it’s a good test of golf. I don’t think the rough will be as heavy as they’d like it, but it will still be tough.
For me, it’s quite different to a lot of the other links courses because the greens at Sandwich are quite undulating with some pretty severe slopes in places. In some cases you can’t just run the ball up, you have to fly the ball all the way to the green and that’s ok by me.
It’s not that it suits any particular player because the standard is such that anybody teeing up these days has a chance.
Tiger Woods won’t have a chance this year because unfortunately he has not recovered from his injuries. It’s always a disappointment when Tiger isn’t in the field because people want to see him play and he brings so much to the game. On the other hand, when he isn’t there it increases my and everybody else’s chances, but I’d certainly prefer him to be there