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Roaring Into Town

Rory McIlroy
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ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 21: Barry Lane of England lines up a putt on the 12th hole during the first round of The Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 21, 2010 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)  - 

SANDWICH, England – Rory McIlroy and his father, Gerry, went to venerable Royal County Down Monday evening to catch up and spend a little time together. They did the same thing a year ago before heading to St. Andrews for the Open Championship.

Rory played nine holes while Gerry simply walked around with his son. They had the place to themselves. Just call it the calm before the storm.

McIlroy turned up Tuesday afternoon at Royal St. George’s for his first mass gathering with the media since that historic day three weeks ago at the U.S. Open, where he dominated the field, slayed his Masters’ demons and walked off with an eight-shot victory heard ‘round the world that sent the game into a collective tizzy.

“It’s nice to be the center of attention,” McIlroy said.

Good thing. Since we last saw McIlroy at Congressional, he’s been in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, seemingly every member of his Holywood hometown has been interviewed by some media outlet and those in the “know” have pronounced him the heir apparent to Tiger Woods.

Heck, so many people now love the 22-year-old slugger that there are reports that two separate bets of 20,000 pounds (about $32,000) have been placed on McIlroy to win this championship. About that report he was asked, “Is this the act of very shrewd punters or of desperate men?”

McIlroy said: “I’ll go with the first option.” He then gave a little smirk.

“I’ve already sort of noticed over the past three weeks it has been a bit of a life-changing experience,” McIlroy said. “It’s just something I’m going to have to deal with.”

Life-changing? You bet. But somehow Rory has, well, just continued to be Rory. He’s still the same dude with the same syrupy swing that handles everything well that life throws at him.

After the craziness of the first 10 days post-Congressional, McIlroy has tried to get back into his normal routine of preparation for major championships. He showed up here at Royal St. George’s early last week to get the lay of the land, then polished up some at the new practice facility he built at his home outside Belfast and has played several rounds at Royal County Down.

“It was nice to relax and sort of take it all in after the U.S. Open,” McIlroy said. “But I knew that the time for reflection wasn’t really at this point of the season, it’s at the end. I’ve got to forget about what happened three weeks ago and just come in here and try to win another golf tournament.”

Sure, the last three weeks have been surreal for McIlroy, but now is where the road can tend to become difficult. With the attention and the success come high expectations.

Although many have foreshadowed multiple majors for McIlroy he insists that no one has higher expectations than the ones he has for himself. Still, winning the U.S. Open when many weren’t picking him to contend is vastly different than performing at a high standard when you’re expected to deliver the goods.

“Obviously Rory is on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, and rightly so,” Luke Donald said. “He was impressive in the U.S. Open and winning majors is a big deal and he did it in great fashion. I’m sure a lot of the attention is on him and maybe a little bit more of the pressure as well.”

If McIlroy deals with this pressure like he’s dealt with all the previous pressures, he’ll manage it just fine. Remember, this is someone who has held the lead in each of the past four majors, had a meltdown of epic proportions at Augusta National and has handled them all with more grace than men twice his age.

“I’ve basically learned most of the lessons that I needed to learn to get me over the line, especially in a major championship,” McIlroy said. “Now that I’ve done that, I feel as if I’ll be able to go on and contend a lot more.”

So, it seems Gerry McIlroy is going to have to get used to being in the limelight that comes with being Rory’s dad. Last week at Holywood Golf Club he admitted that he is so uncomfortable being in the spotlight that he hesitated jumping inside the ropes Sunday at the U.S. Open to embrace his boy. This wasn’t Gerry’s moment he says, this was Rory’s moment and he didn’t want to intrude.

At the rate Rory is going, the only time Gerry will go unnoticed on a golf course will be at Royal County Down once a year when he and Rory play nine holes before the Open Championship.

Although now, even that secret no longer is safe.