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GAME ON
DAMON HACK
March 12, 2012
Rory McIlroy, the charismatic 22-year-old with the swing to die for, took over as world No. 1 by winning the Honda Classic, but a dazzling finish by Tiger Woods sent the message that a new battle is about to begin
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March 12, 2012

Game On

Rory McIlroy, the charismatic 22-year-old with the swing to die for, took over as world No. 1 by winning the Honda Classic, but a dazzling finish by Tiger Woods sent the message that a new battle is about to begin

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The locker room at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., was empty on Sunday night but for a handful of attendants, a coterie of police and one happy but fatigued 22-year-old golfer.

Rory McIlroy needed food. He had a flight to catch. The completion of his childhood dream in the face of his childhood idol had left him famished.

"Can I steal a cracker?" McIlroy asked while eyeing a platter of fruit and cheese. His request granted, McIlroy wolfed down a solitary wafer and a square of cheese. Two plastic to-go plates were prepared for his getaway.

A young boy approached McIlroy with a golf ball to autograph.

"Great win," said the boy, barely coming up to Rory's waist.

"Thank you," said McIlroy, signing the ball in large loops.

McIlroy sank into a thick brown chair. Twenty-one white Honda Classic flags were set out before him on a table, and he signed each in beautiful cursive. The TV over McIlroy's left shoulder showed highlights of the tournament—of him scrambling through the Bear Trap to win by two over Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis to ascend to No. 1 in the World Ranking; of Woods shooting a spectacular eight-under-par 62; of McIlroy again, smiling through his press conference and talking about the Masters.

McIlroy never looked up. A black Honda Odyssey Touring edition was idling out front, waiting to whisk him to the airport for a flight to New York City, where he would meet his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, before returning to Florida for this week's World Golf Championship at Doral.

McIlroy posed for a photo with two of the policemen and walked outside. He hugged his parents, Gerry and Rosie. He hugged his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald. The night was young, and the golf season was never more alive.

"Well done, Number 1," Fitzgerald said, as McIlroy ducked into the backseat of the vehicle. He punched some keys on his iPhone and was gone.

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