PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rory McIlroy made quite a first impression in America, even when he lost.
He made his pro debut on American soil in the Arizona desert at the 2009 Match Play Championship. As a 19-year-old, McIlroy advanced to the quarterfinals and threw everything he had at Geoff Ogilvy until losing on the 17th hole.
Ogilvy, who went on to win his third World Golf Championship that week, recalls riding back to the clubhouse with his caddie, Allistair “Squirrel” Matheson, both of them realizing that the landscape was about to change.
“I played so good that day,” Ogilvy said Sunday. “I birdied 15, 16 and 17 and halved all three holes. We were way under par that day. Both Squirrel and I said, ‘This guy is going to be unbelievable.’ And then Squirrel said, ‘If you want to be No. 1, you’re going to have to be better than this guy.’ Because not many people in the world will be better than that.”
Never mind that Tiger Woods was No. 1 in the world by miles, and would go on to win seven times that year.
There was something special about this freckled-face young Northern Irishman with brown curls spilling out from under his cap, who played the game with a delightful mixture of joy and reckless abandon.
“Since that first day I saw him play, he was a level above us,” Ogilvy said.
Their premonition came true when McIlroy won the Honda Classic in fashion befitting the No. 1 player in the world.
McIlroy became the 16th player to become No. 1, ending the 40-week reign of Luke Donald, who sent a congratulatory message on Twitter by telling Boy Wonder, “Enjoy the view.”
McIlroy is the second-youngest player to be No. 1 in the world ranking – Woods was 21 when he first reached the top after the U.S. Open in 1997. And it should be added that Woods only stayed at No. 1 for one measly week. After trading places with Ernie Els, Greg Norman and eventually David Duval, Woods finally established himself as the best by staying at No. 1 for more than five years.