It is February 2009 and Geoff Ogilvy has just beaten the 19-year old Rory McIlroy by 2&1 in the quarter final of the Accenture World Match Play Championship in Arizona. Sitting in the shuttle van on the way back to the clubhouse, Ogilvy and his caddie, Alastair “Squirrel” Mathieson, look at each other and nod knowingly.
“I had heard of Rory before we played that match, of course,” says Ogilvy, who will play alongside McIlroy in the opening two rounds of the Emirates Australian Open at the Australian club this week. “He was supposed to be the next best thing. But on tour we hear that sort of stuff maybe two or three times a year about some youngster or other. But this time it turned out to be true. After only a few holes, it was so obvious that this guy was on his way to being on a different level from the rest of us.
“I was playing really well at that time (Ogilvy would go on to win the championship for the second time). At the end of the match I was probably seven or eight under par. I birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th to close out the match – but we halved all three of those holes. I felt pretty fortunate to have won. Squirrel thought so too. ‘Well, there’s the next number one in the world,’ he said.”
Right again. Soon enough, the young Northern Irishman was the highest-ranked player on the planet. And this week he is in Sydney to defend the Australian Open title he won a year ago after an epic battle with Adam Scott, the world’s second-best golfer. It is a mouth-watering prospect.
“What stands out in Rory’s game is how composed he is and how complete his game is,” continues Ogilvy. “That is an unusual combination. Some guys have one or the other, but hardly ever both. He has no real weakness.
“Where he is now is pretty much where I expected him to be by this stage of his career. I am surprised that he has won a couple of his four majors by such wide margins. We haven’t seen that sort of thing since Tiger. But, to be honest, Rory has looked like a guy who is going to win at least ten majors from day one.
“He’s also a great guy to play with. He’s chatty and displays no real ego issues. He’s just a good lad. And it’s great to hear the noise his shots make when he hits them. It’s just fun to watch him play.”
As for Ogilvy’s own chances, he arrives at the national Open he won in 2010 at The Lakes in fine enough fettle. In contention for three rounds at last week’s Australian Masters, he fell away in the final round but remains hopeful of repeating his victory of four years ago.
“I’ve always performed better when I have been paired with Rory,” says the former US Open champion. “I seem to get sucked along by the quality of his play and the rhythm of his swing. I see what is possible. And it is always a big occasion when you are drawn with the best player. I enjoy that.
“I also like that the re-vamped Australian course asks a few more questions around the greens, which should suit me. I’m happy with the way I am swinging and encouraged by the way I played last week without ever really feeling very sharp. I needed that week to knock some rust off. So if I can get into contention I feel like I can hang in there to the end.”
Let the battle commence.