A Round to Remember for Rory McIlroy
He has won four major titles, two World Golf Championship events and been on the winning Ryder Cup team four times, so it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the only round of golf where he can still recall every shot came when Rory McIlroy was a 16-year-old amateur.
Mind you, it wasn't just any old round. It came in the North of Ireland Championship in 2005, when McIlroy shot a 61. Yes, a 61., At the age of 16.
The round came at Royal Portrush and it's not likely to be surpassed at The Open this week given the changes to the course made since, as it would be a brave man or woman who bet on anybody improving on that incredible score this week - or any time for that matter.
“It didn’t really feel like a very special round of golf until I made the turn,” McIlroy said. “I missed a good chance for birdie on the first and played the front nine in three under, which is a good front nine of golf but you’re not really thinking about challenging the course record at that point.
“Then I eagled the 10th and birdied the 11th. So then all of a sudden I’m six under through 11 and you’re thinking, ‘OK, this could be pretty special’. Then I parred the next two holes and didn’t birdie 13, which was a good chance, but I birdied the last five in a row.
“It’s funny. I keep thinking back and in that stretch of golf there’s two tough holes, the 14th , which is now the 16th, and the old 16th, which is now the 18th. I hit three great shots into those two holes and I think those two holes are going to be pivotal in the result of The Open Championship.The 16th is such a tough par three and the 18th is such a tough finishing hole.
“I remember I birdied both of those and I’d pay a lot of money for two birdies on those holes in a few days’ time.”
McIlroy’s potential was already well known in Irish golfing circles by that point, but it was that 11-under-par 61 which made people sit up and take notice, including Portrush native Graeme McDowell.
“I do remember when somebody first told me about that round because you often hear about the next great thing,” McDowell said. “We’ve got this kid, he’s playing off +7 and blah, blah, blah. Then he shot 61 in the first round of qualifying for the North of Ireland and I’m like, ‘Really? OK. Hold on. Now I’ve got to pay a little more attention to this’.
“That was the first time that I realised that we had something pretty special on our hands from the point of view of Irish golf and Northern Irish golf.”
McDowell and McIlroy have been partly responsible for The Open returning to Northern Ireland after such a long gap, their major championship victories - plus those of Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington - increasing pressure on the R&A to overcome any commercial or logistical challenges.
“I never thought I’d be able to play a major championship at home but it’s just about harnessing that support and harnessing that environment the right way and trying to use it to your advantage,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had a great record in The Open for the past few years so there’s no reason to believe I can’t go ahead and put up a really good fight at Portrush as well.”
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