Northern Ireland hails McIlroy, a 'Celtic Tiger'

June 20, 2011 - 3:15 PM
APTOPIX US Open Golf

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, poses with the trophy after winning the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — His picture is everywhere. You can see it in the window of fish shops, or on cupcakes at bakeries.

These are good times for Rory McIlroy, lauded by one politician as "our Celtic Tiger."

And when the U.S. Open champion returns home to Northern Ireland this week the player described as golf's heir apparent to Tiger Woods can expect an open-top bus parade in his honor.

McIlroy's record-shattering win at Congressional gave his country a second straight victory in the tournament, drawing tributes from British Prime Minister David Cameron and enrapturing his hometown of Holyfield.

Residents had packed the Holywood Golf Club to watch him play. And right in the middle of the jubilation was McIlroy's uncle Colm, who toasted his nephew's victory by spraying champagne over the 18th tee.

"The pressure he was under was immense," Colm said. "The way he won it — he just took the whole field out basically, won by eight shots, broke all U.S. Open records. The rest of them were just spectators."

Since the Masters began in 1934, the 22-year-old prodigy is the second youngest major champion next to Woods.

It was a victory that united politicians in a country scarred by sectarian violence for decades. Usual business in the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended to allow members to pay tribute.

"I stand here tired but elated," said Democratic Unionist Party legislator Peter Weir, who represents Holywood.

Many in the Stormont assembly spoke of McIlroy's modest background and basked in a performance that more than matched the U.S. Open victory by compatriot Graeme McDowell 12 months earlier.

"Rory McIlroy's emphatic win in the US Open is one of Northern Ireland's greatest sporting moments," First Minister Peter Robinson said. "Over the past four days, Rory played perhaps some of the best golf we have ever witnessed.

"To have led from the first day of the tournament to the last shows a maturity and composure far beyond his years."

Another politician, Karen McKevitt, likened McIlroy's game to that of Tiger Woods: "We have got our own Tiger. Our Celtic Tiger."

The victory could even provide an economic jolt for an island beset by economic troubles.

"This is, apart from a personal triumph, a great victory for tourism in Northern Ireland," Ulster Unionist legislator Leslie Cree said. "He is going to be a great ambassador for sport and a great ambassador for tourism."