I am a bit too cynical about these things, so I did predict gloomily that Rory McIlroy would probably miss the cut in the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club last weekend, for which the world number two was the star attraction.
But I am delighted to report that the Northen Irishman lived up to his billing both on and off the course, behaving every bit the much-loved superstar with his tremendous performance and his dealings with the large galleries that followed him around, scores of autograph seekers and the media.
No, McIlroy did not win the second oldest national open title as expected, but that had more to do with the splendid performance of Graeme Storm, who just made no mistakes, than any failings on Rory’s part.
The crowds, the largest seen at the SA Open in a decade, certainly got their money’s worth though as the thrilling McIlroy v Storm contest went all the way to three playoff holes. There is also surely no better driver of the ball in world golf than McIlroy, and those booming hits down the middle of the fairway have huge spectator value.
And, to make McIlroy’s entire performance even more impressive, he was struggling with a bad back which was later diagnosed as a stress fracture of a rib. He must have played through considerable discomfort, so kudos to the man. The seriousness of the injury is shown by his withdrawal from this weekend’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he could have regained the number one world ranking.
The current speculation is that he will be out of action for a month but let’s hope McIlroy gets better soon.
Of course, having such a wonderful guest at the SA Open was largely due to the efforts of tournament ambassador Ernie Els. Is there a better South African sporting patriot?
The respect that Els, a member of the Hall of Fame since 2011, enjoys in international golf is clearly about far more than just his golf game and the four major titles he was won. McIlroy made it clear that his presence in South Africa was as a favour to Els.
And the Big Easy has not only been a tremendous supporter of South African golf: If the Springboks or Proteas play in London, more often than not, Els will be there and usually gives of his time to hand out the jerseys or give a motivational speech to the team.
And the good news is, it looks like you may get the chance to see McIlroy again in South Africa in the near future.
“I had a fantastic time in South Africa, it was an incredible 10 days, and my fiancée and I are already planning to return at the end of the year,” McIlroy said after the disappointment of his playoff defeat.
If McIlroy genuinely meant the end of 2017 then you would think his eye is on the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, which is the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai and part of the lucrative Finals Series, or else he may have meant returning to the SA Open in a year’s time.
Either way, it is wonderful news for South African golf.