McIlroy returns to scene of American debut

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MARANA, ARIZ. (AP) - Rory McIlroy made his pro debut in America, a 19-year-old from Northern Ireland identified by his freckles, the brown curls coming out of his cap and his raw talent.

He reached the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship until he ran into the eventual champion, Geoff Ogilvy, who had to make five birdies on the back nine to hold off the kid. Ogilvy birdied the last three holes and won only one of them, the 17th, for a 2-and-1 win.

“He’s the real deal,” Ogilvy said that day. “He’s going to be around for a while.”

That was three years ago.

McIlroy returns to Dove Mountain as the reigning U.S. Open champion after smashing records at Congressional. He is No. 2 in the world and has a chance to become the second-youngest player to reach the top of the ranking if he were to win this week.

He is dating tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. He already has switched managers. And he plans to play a full PGA Tour schedule. It’s hard to believe he has gone through so much at such a young age.

“I feel very content and very happy at the moment with everything that’s going on,” he said. “I feel like my golf game is in good shape.”

Just don’t get the idea he’s comfortable with everything.

After all, this is the Match Play Championship. There are 64 players in the single-elimination tournament, such a quirky event that not even the best can make plans to stick around Dove Mountain for more than one day.

Tiger Woods is a three-time winner of this World Golf Championship, and if he takes any motivation from the assessment of his opponent, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, he isn’t saying.

“I think he’s beatable,” the Spaniard said. “Of course, I have to play good.”

Such comments were all Woods used to need to get fired up. The most famous incident took place in 2006 at La Costa, when Stephen Ames as the No. 64 seed said anything could happen, adding with a smile, “especially where he’s hitting it.”

Woods beat him, 9 and 8, the most lopsided-match in the history of this event.

But that was when Woods was No. 1 in the world. He is the No. 19 seed this week at Dove Mountain.

That was when Woods was winning two majors a year. Now he hasn’t won a tour event in more than two years. Hearing these comments on Tuesday when he arrived at Dove Mountain, he smiled.

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