\"Rory

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 04: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up a putt on the 15th hole during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National on March 4, 2012 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo by: Getty Images

Sports Digest: Rory McIlroy is king of the world

\"Rory

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 04: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up a putt on the 15th hole during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National on March 4, 2012 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo by: Getty Images

Rory McIlroy is in no rush to give up his new found status as the world’s top golfer – no matter what Tiger Woods or Luke Donald may think about it.

McIlroy will tee it up at the WGC event in Miami this week as the number one ranked player on the planet thanks to last Sunday’s win at the Honda Classic in Florida.

The 22-year-old became the first Irishman to top the rankings and only the second youngest ever, behind Woods, thanks to his brilliance at Palm Beach Gardens.

Now that he has edged past Donald and Lee Westwood to become the best in the business, U.S. Open champion McIlroy wants to stay there.

“I’d like to stay there for a while,” he said. “As long as I keep playing good golf and have chances to win tournaments, then hopefully I’ll stay up there.”

Consistency has been the key of late for the Ryder Cup star who, since last year’s PGA Championship in August, has won two tournaments, finished second four times, third twice and only once finished outside the top five.

McIlroy added, “I feel the way I’m playing at the minute, the level of consistency, hopefully I’m going to be able to stay there for a while.

“It was always a dream of mine to become the world number one and the best player in the world, or whatever you want to call it.

“But I didn’t know I would be able to get here this quickly. Hopefully, I can hold on to it for a little longer.”

McIlroy is still savoring the moment. “It’s very special,” he said. “When I was 10 or 11 I was interviewed and said I wanted to be the best player in the world and I wanted to win majors.”

The praise has been flowing in for McIlroy. Back home in Ulster, his long time coach Michael Bannon said, “Rory has been in the spotlight all his life. He got his tour card so early, he got on the tour, won a tournament so young, won a major so young and now he’s number one in the world and he’s only 22.

“Rory just gets better and better all the time.”

Fellow major winner Graeme McDowell said, “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. He deserves it. I think he’s the best player on the planet right now.

“He’s the best player I’ve ever seen tee-to-green, period. I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger early-to-mid-2000s when Tiger was the man, but Rory McIlroy is the best player I’ve ever seen.”

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny sent his congratulations to McIlroy.
Kenny said, “We congratulate Rory. His achievement shows what is possible when talent and hard work combine.”

BBC golf pundit Jay Townsend, who was involved in a Twitter war with McIlroy last summer said,“He has grown an inner strength.

“He’s always had the ability to hit any shot at any time but he’s got mentally stronger, harnessed the youthful exuberance and he’s playing the right shot at the right time.

“I’ve been critical about his shot selection in the past but I didn’t see any fault this week, he really played like a great player.”

McDowell believes a new found confidence with his putter is the key to McIlroy’s current dominance in the world game.

“That was the missing link, because the rest of his game  is all there,” said McDowell.

“As soon as he learned how to putt, he was going to be a dominating force, and you’re starting to see that now.”

McDowell believes the McIlroy win on Sunday – and Tiger’s return to form – will make for a fascinating few weeks ahead of the Masters.

“I’m excited to be part of golf right now,” McDowell said. “It’s great to have Tiger Woods back playing the kind of golf we know he can play, because he’s exciting for the sport.

“But Rory keeps working harder and he has much more belief in himself and he knows what he wants to do now and he knows how to do it.”

McClean’s Debut

JAMES McClean has one eye on the European Championships, but he won’t take anything for granted after bringing the house down on his international debut.

McClean received the loudest cheer of the night when he replaced Aiden McGeady for the final 12 minutes of the 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic.

The Sunderland winger, who only recently switched allegiances from Northern Ireland, would be a popular addition to Trap’s European squad as far as the fans are concerned.

But Giovanni Trapattoni has already indicated that he will go for experience this summer and McClean isn’t going to push the issue.

“That’s not my decision,” he insisted. “That’s the manager’s decision. If I continue to play well for Sunderland, then you never know.”

The 22-year-old was delighted to make his first appearance for Ireland and delighted with the warmth of the reception he received on and off the field.

He added, “There were goose bumps and it was a tremendous reception. It is something that I’ve dreamed of since I was a boy. It is something that will live with me for the rest of my life.”

Irish striker Shane Long believes Giovanni Trapattoni will have a selection headache when it comes to picking his wingers for the European Championships after McClean staked his claim for a spot.

With Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady and Stephen Hunt already in the squad, Long is excited by the new competition for places.

He said, “It’s brilliant. They are obviously top quality players, and seeing him with my own eyes this week in training, James, he can deliver a ball from anywhere.

“You know when he gets it, you just have to make a run and he will find you. We have different options on the wings and it’s a problem for the manager coming up to the Euros.”

Trapattoni said after the draw that McClean’s late introduction was a “reward.”

The Italian added, “It was a reward for him and McGeady and Duff were doing well so there was no need to change and I wanted to show them my confidence, but I told McClean I wanted to play with him in the future also.

“We have time, every week we have injury or not, so what happens is we will continue with our team, so at the end of the league we have time to decide.”
 
Celtic Loses

CELTIC’S long winning run finally came to an end in the 1-1 draw at Aberdeen on Saturday, but midfielder Joe Ledley is backing the Scottish Champions elect to bounce back.

Anthony Stokes gave Celtic an early lead in their search for a 21st straight domestic win, but his goal was cancelled out when Hoops debutant Andre Blackman turned the ball past his own goalkeeper as he tried to block a Gavin Rae shot.

Ledley said: “We obviously wanted to continue our form and get the win but it didn’t happen for us against Aberdeen. We know we didn’t perform as well as we can do. The record has gone but there are still trophies to be won.

“It shows just how far we have come as a team that we are disappointed with a point. We have to give credit to Aberdeen as they played some good football. We know we have to bounce back with a win next weekend.”

Celtic boss Neil Lennon refused to criticize his players for their performance in the lunchtime game.

He said, “I don’t know who scheduled the game but that has certainly not done us any favors. I think that has played as much part as Aberdeen’s performance in this run ending.

“The result is no surprise considering the call-offs and the schedules that the players have had this week with international games. It is obvious that they are tired, mentally and physically.

“I’m not overly disappointed, in fact I’m immensely proud of the players for the run they have been on.”
 
Reduced Pay

THE Irish players have accepted an offer from the FAI for bonus payments after qualifying for the European Championships – and will receive less than the 2002 World Cup squad.

An FAI statement confirmed, “The Football Association of Ireland and the players have confirmed that they agreed qualification bonuses after a constructive and brief meeting.

“During the discussions, the players emphasized the immense honor and pride which they feel in representing the country through this and previous campaigns.

“The players thanked the FAI for their professionalism and preparations which are made around the international squad.

“In recognition of the wider economic climate, the players were happy to agree to a reduction in qualification payments made in 2002.

“On behalf of all strands of the sport, the Football Association of Ireland thanks the players for their readiness to accept a reduction.”
 
Rovers Win

SHAMROCK Rovers got their defense of the Airtricity League crown off to a perfect start as two Gary Twigg goals secured a 2-1 win away to Drogheda United on Friday night.

Sligo left it late to draw 1-1 with Shels at Tolka Park, UCD surprised Cork City 1-0, Monaghan and

Dundalk played out a scoreless draw and St. Pat’s beat Bray 1-0. Derry won 1-0 at home to Bohs in the remaining Premier Division fixture.
 

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