|Rory McIlroy hits to the second green during the fourth round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., March 4, 2012. (JOE SKIPPER/Reuters)
TORONTO - Rory McIlroy loves America and America loves Rory McIlroy.
As the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland marched toward victory down the 18th fairway at the Honda Classic in Florida on Sunday, the gallery chanted, “Rory! Rory! Rory!”
After the tournament, the newly crowned World No. 1 golfer celebrated his win in New York City and, word is, he is in the market to buy a place in West Palm Beach, Fla.
When did this love affair begin?
Surprisingly, it began on one of the worst days of McIlroy’s young career.
Last April at Augusta National the coronation of golf’s next big thing seemed destined to take place. McIlroy teed off Sunday with a four shot lead eyeing his first major. By the end of the day Charl Schwartzel wore the green jacket and McIlroy had an unfortunate place in the record book, shooting 80 — the worst final round by a leader in Masters’ history.
It was a meltdown of such proportions that golf fans put their daggers away and instead wanted to give the mop-haired Ulsterman a great big hug.
Later that night, McIlroy tweeted a now famous photo of he and Schwartzel. The pair arm in arm, sharing a flight on a private jet to Malaysia — Schwartzel on the best day of his career, McIlroy on the worst. The words that accompanied McIlroy’s tweet were, “Flying to Malaysia with charl! Glad one of us has a green jacket on!!!”
Talk of his great sportsmanship flew around the world via Twitter.
His dominant win at the U.S. Open at Congressional cinched the deal with fans.
McIlory was on his way to breaking through as the rarest of rare; a foreign player embraced whole-heartedly by American golf fans.
This isn’t lost on the young U.S. Open champ. In fact, he is making the most of life on the PGA Tour.
On Monday, McIlroy made a guest appearance during an exhibition tennis match between girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova at Madison Square Garden in New York.
McIlory was lured onto the court by Wozniacki who then handed him her racquet and walked away. After under-handing a serve to Sharapova, the pair had a short rally before the leggy Russian hit a shot wide, handing the point to McIlroy.
When you’re hot, you’re hot.
On Tuesday, McIlroy tweeted a pic from the balcony of his NYC hotel overlooking Central Park. If you have never heard of Jumeirah and wonder who they are every time you see Rory’s clothing during a tournament — they own that hotel and many other high-end resorts around the world.
With the void created by Tiger Woods’ fall from grace, McIlroy’s ascent couldn’t have come at a better time. His clean-cut image, outgoing nature and connection to the social media generation are making corporate America reach for its cheque book.
Golf Digest listed McIlroy’s 2011 off-course earnings at $5.9 million dollars, a far cry from Woods’ $62 million or Phil Mickelson’s $38 million. McIlroy’s sponsors include Titleist, Jumeirah, Oakley and EA Sports. With his new status as golf’s top dog and his first major under his belt, expect to see McIlory’s bank account swell over the next year before exploding when it comes time to renew these deals.