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Video-gamer McIlroy gets first taste of the real Sawgrass

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - The TPC Sawgrass course, venue for this week’s Players Championship, is a popular choice for users of golf video games but the reality is far tougher than the simulation suggests according to Briton Rory McIlroy.

Sergio Garcia of Spain and his caddie (L) walk from the island green on the 17th hole during first round play of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, who turned 20 on Monday, enjoys taking a ‘busman’s holiday’ and playing the Tiger Woods endorsed PGA Tour video game in his spare time but this week gets his first taste of the real thing at what is considered the unofficial ‘fifth major’.

“It’s a lot different. You get up to holes like 11 on the computer and you can drive it up to the big tree on the right, which is like 150 from the green, I had a good drive yesterday and was still hitting a five wood in, it is not quite like it is on the Play Station,” he told reporters.

McIlroy, who has gone round the computer simulation of the Sawgrass course in an 18 under-par 54 -- playing as himself as he is included on the options menu this year -- says his two days of practice on the course have contained plenty of surprises.

“It’s a great golf course, set up well, if you hit into some bad spots, the rough can be pretty penal but just off the fairways it’s not too bad,” said the 18th-ranked McIlroy.

“The premium on this course is hitting fairways and greens, good strikers of the ball have always done well here, if I can do that this week I will have a good chance I think.

The most exciting hole - for most spectators - is the par-three 17th with the green set up as an island in the middle of an artificial lake.

The intimidation factor is high on that hole, with the large stadium seating adding to the atmosphere but McIlroy says he is relishing the chance to perform on that stage.

“I think it is great. I hit a two there yesterday, I was downwind so just hit a wedge but that is going to be the easiest it will play all week.

“It’s interesting, I know it is the focal point of this tournament and I know it will be a bit different when there are 10,000 people around the hole when you are trying to hit the shots. But I love it, it’s great, it’s fun, it’s what golf should be about,” he said.

McIlroy said his goal in the event is to make a decent showing ahead of a busy spell in Europe including the Irish Open next week.

“I had two weeks off, I was completely drained after Hilton Head and so took the first week off and then started to practice last week. I feel like I’m hitting it pretty good.

“But its still first week back - if I can finish up there, give myself a chance, top 15 or top 10, I’d be pretty happy.”

Editing by Justin Palmer; To query or comment on this story email