Darren Clarke may not have made it onto the Ryder Cup team this time around, but if he can keep up his return to form and is back playing a full schedule, you'd fancy him to be in Wales in 2010 for the next one. Graeme McDowell is now finally living up to the hype he created by bettering Tiger Woods college Golf record and you'd back him to be there too. But what are the odds of there being a third Northern Irish Golfer on the team at the Celtic Manor? Surprisingly good as a matter of fact. Young Rory McIlroy is one of the hottest talents to break into Golf for many a year, on either side of the Altlantic.
At the age of 16, he shot a course record 61 at the Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. That's just sick. Considering that is the course on which Darren Clarke learned his trade and returns to play quite often still, it's an incredible achievement for someone so young. But that round was no fluke, he had a short spell as the World Amateur Number One, after winning the West of Ireland Championship and Irish Close Championship double in 2005 and 2006 as well as the European Amateur Championship in 2006. He was a member of the winning Junior Ryder Cup team of 2004 and had some moderate success in some European tour invites. Then last year, after finishing the low amateur at the 2007 Open, tied 42nd, he made the move into the Pro ranks.
He got himself his tour card in record time last year, becoming the youngest man ever to get it, and whilst he hasn't quite had such an amazing year this year, he has established himself in the top 200 in the world. Considering he has only played in 31 events and the minimum divisor in the World Rankings is 40, that's only really going to improve. Especially if he continues to play as well as he is this week at the Omega European Masters.
McIlroy set the course alight yesterday, only dropping a single shot all day, he notched up nine birdies including four in his last five holes. An eight under par 63 to be three shots clear on day one. Incredible scoring from a young man, who although he looks like he might fall over if the wind should catch his curly hair, can tonk his drives an absolute mile and has an all around game that's had him tipped for the top since he was a tot. I saw him on a rubbish Northern Ireland Chat Show years back, where he was paraded out to hit some balls when he was no age, a bit like Tiger was when he was knee high to a daisy. Those kids are always the best aren't they, there's something about being on telly at that age, David Beckham was too and I'm sure there's others that I can't think of either. I can't find the bloody video on Youtube but here are some clips of him doing some pretty cool stuff on Inside Sport with the ever rosy cheeked Matthew Pinsent.
Rory chips a ball into Matthew Pinsents Hands - Admittedly he does have hands the size of shovels but it's still a hell of a shot.
Rory taps a ball on the end of his club for a while, then twats it on the half volley - listen out for Pinsent's "shot", why does everyone say that...
He hasn't had such an amazing day today though, a par round of 71 with a few birdies and a few bogies to stay on eight under. But he wasn't too concerned-
"You rarely see a player go 63-64. A 71 was a pretty good effort. It was quite tricky out there and some of the pin positions are quite extreme.”
Mikko Ilonen eagled the par 5 14th for the second day in a row, though he's followed it with bogey on 15 both days too. He was just ahead of McIlroy on nine under two holes into his back nine, but has dropped three since and is two off the lead as I write. Last year's winner Brett Rumford had his second 67 today to finish tied with McIlroy on 8 under. The only Ryder Cup man here this week, Miguel Angel Jimenez is lurking on 5 under and it would be no surprise if he makes his way to the top come Sunday, in a field with few other big names.