x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Rory McIlroy's charisma puts him right up there

The Dubai Desert Classic has all the ingredients of 'bigness' – the fame of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, some nice golf on view and the presence of Rory McIlroy.

Bigness can shun golf in February as the leaderboards of lucrative tournaments can teem with strangers known only to next of kin and perhaps not even to some of their cousins.

It is not the fault of these men that the public is too busy describing on Facebook what they had for dinner to learn the golfers' names and appreciate their rare talent. It just counts as another signal of an imperfect world.

So when a golf tournament gets bigness in February, still months from the gravitas of the spring-and-summer majors, that tournament can call itself fortunate. And when a tournament has a 10-minute moment like the one the Dubai Desert Classic had yesterday, well, that makes for one rare February Saturday at the course.

As the round wound down, suddenly everybody trying to solve chronic issues on the putting green gawked upward en masse at the big screen to witness a crescendo and a Tiger Woods fist-pump - about a "5" on the old Woods Fist Pumpometer - after his birdie putt slid in on No 18 and brought tighter contention on a day when he once trailed by eight.

Then while he took a fresh turn as a comic beneath the grandstand - "Eighteen pars," he cracked of his wild round with only eight of them - the television monitor showed Sergio Garcia in the wilderness and oases around No 17.

He appeared to be out there in the sand somewhere in need of a compass and a pith helmet. As it happened, he would commit both double-bogey and eloquence when he said, "Apparently the odds of hitting an eight-inch-wide pond from 340 yards are bigger than I thought."

And then to complete the moment, just off to the side of the stand where the No 17 tee sort of cowers against the edge of the grandstand back wall, Rory McIlroy stood chatting with spectators mashed against the little wall just behind the tee box.

Garcia tried to figure it out and "hit a trunk" as he would put it; McIlroy and his playing partner, Thomas "Hair" Aiken, waited to tee-off on the reachable par 4; and McIlroy chatted.

And he kept chatting. No imaginary barrier between himself and his viewers. Just a thoroughly enviable 21-year-old golf pro standing there chit-chatting. So then the way cleared and Aiken drove and McIlroy stopped chatting and turned around and boomed a sonnet of a drive that thrilled the masses.

Some cowboy, that guy. Within the 10 minutes, Garcia had come back to the pack, Woods had come forward and McIlroy had held together enough from a garish start that their scores had congealed all within one shot of each other. And with the populous parade of Hansens and "Hair" Aikens and Quiroses around there, they showed how you bring bigness to February.

First, you take Woods out of the United States and relocate him briefly to the hotter tour. Then you have the famed Garcia finding himself and answering his official 10-millionth lifetime question about his putting. Figure in Lee Westwood, nibbling nearby. And then already, so early in McIlroy's life out on the European Tour, it helps hugely to have McIlroy.

Even if you do not have the reigning Tour champion Martin Kaymer, who found Dubai less agreeable than Abu Dhabi with his 14-par, four-bogey 76 that sank him to a paltry even par, that's all right, if you have McIlroy.

McIlroy won here two years ago; he won in North Carolina on the Second Fiddle Tour last year; and he has the abundant confidence to state plausibly that he should have won more.

Strictly on statistics, some reasonable sorts might omit him from the bigness brigade just yet.

But this is where you insert the charisma factor, the fact that McIlroy comes to us loaded with that charisma thing they call "it" - the infectious chat-then-belt enchantment of it all.

He shies not from his own expectations, and his own expectations rate steep.

He speaks none of that 21-and-learning gobbledygook. He thinks he should win big things.

Yesterday, he admitted he has let rounds get away from him in the past - especially at the British Open last year – and was delighted that did not happen again in Dubai.

So here, as he steeled from his bogey-bogey-bogey start, and as he recovered similarly from early duress on Friday, he is a welcome part of any afternoon of bigness. Already. At 21.

Besides, if you can harrumph at a guy who chats it up at the tee box and then turns around and gives it a blast while jockeying for the lead, well, then you might just need to cheer up in general.