Rory McIlroy provided a golden reminder of what real golf looks like with Canadian Open win


Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have been the most strident critics of the Saudi-backed LIV circuit, so it was only fitting they should choose the week of its launch to conduct an epic duel at the Canadian Open on Sunday and demonstrate what golf at its best really looks like.

Emerging victorious on this occasion, McIlroy took particular satisfaction in moving one ahead of the Saudi stooge-in-chief Greg Norman with 21 PGA Tour victories to his name. 

In the last 50 years only three players have reached that total at a younger age than 33-year-old McIlroy and all were born in the USA: Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Rory McIlroy claimed the Canadian Open after seeing off competition from Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas (left) and McIlroy have been vocally against the Saudi-backed rebels

Justin Thomas (left) and McIlroy have been vocally against the Saudi-backed rebels

‘It’s a day I’ll remember for a long time and one of the reasons for that is going past Greg, that definitely provided extra motivation,’ admitted the ever-candid McIlroy, who has never made any secret of the fact the Marmite Australian is not on his Christmas card list. 

‘The guy who is leading that other tour that took place across the pond, I was tied with him and I wanted to get one ahead of him. And I did that. Just a little sense of pride in that one.’

The arch-traditionalist seems to have made it his mission to do all he can to help save golf from itself and you only had to see the way he was embraced by the Canadian fans to appreciate that all right-thinking golf fans are in his corner all the way.

After Tiger Woods, McIlroy must now be the most popular golfer on the planet.

McIlroy made a point of saying he's overtaken Greg Norman in terms of PGA Tour victories

McIlroy made a point of saying he’s overtaken Greg Norman in terms of PGA Tour victories

What was most encouraging about McIlroy’s final round 62 to beat the new PGA champion was how good he was with a wedge in his hands. Previously his weakest point, it was his strongest on this day as nearly every one that he struck danced around the hole.

‘It’s a big step forward for me, something that I probably could not have done previously,’ confessed McIlroy.

On to Brookline, then, and another attempt to end his majors drought. 

The last player to win the week before a Grand Slam and then go on to claim the major as well? Why, that would be Rory, and his last victory in one of the four big ones at the PGA in 2014.

Brookline’s rich history – both bad and good 

When it comes to the best and worst of times, there might not be another golf club in America with a legacy quite like that of the Country Club at Brookline near Boston, the scene of the US Open this week.

In this country it is best remembered as the venue for the 1999 Ryder Cup, the one where the American team, in thrall to an unlikely comeback in the singles, ran on to the 17th green en masse while Jose Maria Olazabal had still to putt, a fitting climax to an event where the game plumbed new depths.

What a contrast to the other landmark in the club’s rich history and a truly epochal US Open in 1913 widely considered as the birthplace of the American game.

Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, two of the great British pros who dominated the early years of the sport, were the favourites, only to lose in a play-off to a local caddie called Francis Ouimet, in the game’s greatest upset.

Brookline plays host to the US Open this week and is remembered often for the wrong reasons

Brookline plays host to the US Open this week and is remembered often for the wrong reasons

The modest Ouimet put the sport on America’s front pages for the first time and led to the great awakening.

‘In terms of growing the game, three Americans stand out: Ouimet, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods,’ the USGA’s Mike Trostel told The Quadrilateral website. 

‘He was America’s first golf hero. At the same time, his humility and working-class roots helped erode the perception that golf was only for the elite. The win jump-started a national interest in the game when public courses didn’t exist.’

There was no shortage of interest in America in 1999 when their team overcame a four-point deficit after two days to win back the Ryder Cup, after two successive defeats.

In the excitement, plenty of people lost sight of all that had gone before. Not one of the Ryder Cups that I have covered since has come close to those shameful scenes. I can still hear the banshee howl of one American wag screaming: ‘Get in the thick rough!’ as a drive from a European rookie went awry early in a singles match. 

Colin Montgomerie, pictured earlier this month, was subjected to awful abuse at Brookline

Colin Montgomerie, pictured earlier this month, was subjected to awful abuse at Brookline

She then jumped up and down like she had holed the winning putt herself when the ball did finish in the thick stuff. The crowd took their cue from her example. 

‘The arrival of the golf hooligan,’ was how the peerless writer Alistair Cooke put it.

The man who bore the brunt of it was, naturally, Colin Montgomerie. It was so bad that his father James, a former secretary at Royal Troon, had to come off the course and stop watching. The late, great Payne Stewart was so embarrassed he conceded a 25ft putt on the 18th to Monty, confirming a brave singles victory for the Scot.

In terms of the game’s values, therefore, Brookline has borne witness to the two extremes. 

After the appalling spectacle in St Albans last week, we can only hope this staging of America’s national championship leans more towards the example set by Ouimet, and perhaps the most evocative US Open of all.



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