BELFAST, Northern Ireland – An open-top bus parade is expected to honor U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy when the player described as golf’s heir apparent to Tiger Woods returns to Northern Ireland later this week.
The 22-year-old McIlroy’s record-shattering win at Congressional not only gave his tiny country a second successive victory in the tournament, but brought tributes from British Prime Minister David Cameron and enraptured his hometown of Holywood.
After residents had packed into Holywood Golf Club early Monday to watch him play, signs of McIlroy’s victory were all over town by lunchtime - from pictures of him hanging in shop windows to images of his face on cup cakes at the bakers.
McIlroy’s absence meant his uncle Colm was the center of the media spotlight, toasting his nephew’s victory by spraying champagne over the 18th tee at Holywood Golf Club.
“The pressure he was under was immense,” Colm said. “The way he won it - he just took the whole field out basically, won by eight shots, broke all U.S. Open records; the rest of them were just spectators.”
Since The Masters began in 1934, McIlroy is the second youngest major champion next to Woods.
It was a victory that united politicians in a country that has been scarred by sectarian violence for decades. Usual business in the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended to allow members to pay tribute to McIlroy.
“I stand here tired but elated,” said Democratic Unionist Party legislator Peter Weir, who represents Holywood.
Many in the Stormont assembly highlighted the humble background of McIlroy, who emulated compatriot Graeme McDowell’s U.S. Open win 12 months earlier.
“Rory McIlroy’s emphatic win in the US Open is one of Northern Ireland’s greatest sporting moments,” First Minister Peter Robinson said. “Over the past four days, Rory played perhaps some of the best golf we have ever witnessed.
“To have led from the first day of the tournament to the last shows a maturity and composure far beyond his years.”
Another politician, Karen McKevitt, likened McIlroy’s game to that of Tiger Woods: “We have got our own Tiger. Our Celtic Tiger.”
The victory could even provide a much-needed economic jolt for an island beset by economic troubles.
“This is, apart from a personal triumph, a great victory for tourism in Northern Ireland,” Ulster Unionist legislator Leslie Cree said. “He is going to be a great ambassador for sport and a great ambassador for tourism.”