Rory McIlroy admitted that as a 13-year-old he’d been sorely tempted to pickpocket Tiger Woods on the 18th green at this week’s Irish Open venue Mount Juliet.
McIlroy had sneaked under the ropes and was standing behind Woods when he was about to accept the trophy for the WGC event at the Irish course back in 2002 when temptation lured.
‘That would have been a good story to tell’
“The last time I was on the 18th green here was that prize-giving ceremony,” he said on arrival in County Kilkenny yesterday. “Tiger won and I somehow sneaked my way under the ropes on to the back of the green.
“I was standing right behind him and his glove was still in his back pocket. I could have reached out and got it and ran, that would have been a good story to tell!
“Obviously I didn’t. It was the first time I’d seen him play live. I still remember the first shot I saw him hit, the drive at the 5th, a par five. He hit 2-iron into the green.
“It was so cool. I’d idolised him growing up and to actually see the man in the flesh was pretty exciting.”
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McIlroy was a little less excitable on his second visit in 2004, when he was in the clubhouse at the end and spoke to Ernie Els.
“I’d made a bit of a name for myself as an amateur by then and knew Chubby (Chandler) and Darren (Clarke) so I was in the clubhouse and got to chat to Ernie when he won,” he recalled.
“It’s amazing to think it’s been 17 year. Certainly a lot’s changed for me since the last time I was here.”
‘I might as well play the Scottish as well’
McIlroy had changed his plans for the next three weeks, adding the abrdn Scottish Open next week when he decided he’d come solo.
“My original plan up until last week was us to come as a family, play here, take a week off, which is now the Scottish Open, and play the Open,” he said.
“With me being a sports person the restrictions are not as heavy for me as they would be for Erica and Poppy. I felt it wasn’t fair to put them through what they’d have to go through to be here with me.
“The plans changed very quickly and we made the decision I travel on my own. I wasn’t going to go back to the States for a week inbetween the Irish and the Open, so if I’m here I might as well play the Scottish as well.
“It went very quickly from them coming, to not coming and then me playing three events in a row! If anything, it’s probably worked out for the best.
“It’ll be nice to get a tournament on a links course before going into Sandwich. I didn’t play for a week because I was spending time with the family before being away. So I can now get to work here and in Scotland.”
He admitted to being impressed by the field for the Scottish Open, which also includes new US Open champion Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and other top names. “You look at that field next week, that’s very strong,” he noted.
‘I gave myself a good chance’
McIlroy said he was “very encouraged” by his play at the US Open. He shared the lead for a time on the final day before losing ground.
“I gave myself a good chance,” he said. “That double on 12, you’ll get bad breaks, but it was the three-putt on 11 that actually stopped the momentum. That was pretty sloppy.
“I thought the week was a real positive and I’m looking forward to these next three weeks.”
His goals for the rest of the season really start at Sandwich.
“Getting myself into contention at the Open would be great,” he said. “Having a chance to win both the FedEx Cup and the R2D, those are two pretty good goals of mine.
“Having a great Ryder Cup, that’s very important. There’s a lot of golf to play before then. But to give myself a chance in all those things, those are the goals.”