Sweet 16 as Rory McIlroy comes of age with second major
ALL of a sudden it is a very different 16 that the world of golf is talking about.
Instead of the 16 different winners of the last 16 majors, it is the fact that Rory McIlroy has now won two majors by an incredible combined margin of 16 strokes.
Eight at the US Open last year, a record eight again as he added the USPGA Championship late on Sunday night with a performance so many more people could have sat and admired if only it had not clashed with the Olympics closing ceremony.
No wonder McIlroy upgraded his season from B to A-plus immediately after his latest tour de force, one that took the tournament’s biggest win from Jack Nicklaus and left Tiger Woods – absent from Congressional last summer – in the dust 11 strokes back.
“I think I heard Tiger say that you can have a good season, but to make it a great season you need a major championship,” said the 23-year-old, the fifth youngest player in history to have two majors. “Now I’ve had two great seasons in a row.”
But perhaps the greatest thing of all about him is that his fresh-faced, youthful image is so good for a game that had the Woods off-course sex scandal and on-course tantrums at its epicentre for so long.
“I realise that every time my face is on TV or I’m playing in a tournament that I am a role model for a lot of people and a lot of kids do look up to me,” he said.
“I try to do my best in that regard and put myself across as honestly and as modestly as I can. Some can view it as a big responsibility, but I think if you go about your life and live it the way you always would, I think everything’s okay.
“It’s a huge honour to be put in that position. To have an effect on so many people’s lives is a nice feeling.”
McIlroy was at a photo shoot with one of his sponsors yesterday and then was off to Cincinnati to spend time with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the former tennis world No 1.
The Holywood golfer has that position again now, dethroning Luke Donald for the fourth time in under six months, but this time doing it with the performance of the season.
They are both back in action next week for the start of the FedEx Cup play-offs at Bethpage and in six weeks’ time, of course, they will both be competing for Europe at the Ryder Cup in Chicago.
Jose Maria Olazabal’s potential side – qualifying does not end until Sunday week in Scotland – needed a boost after three of the four previous majors went to Americans Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson and the other to South African Ernie Els.
Whether McIlroy’s display will rub off on others remains to be seen. Martin Kaymer appears out of sorts, Sergio Garcia has just dropped out of an automatic spot and Lee Westwood has just parted company with both his coach Pete Cowen and caddie Mike Waite, who had been the stand-in for the injured Billy Foster.
Westwood is taking on someone yet to be named to work on his short game. He ranks 193rd out of 195 in scrambling – the ability to get up and down from off the green – on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy’s brilliance will hopefully radiate on his team-mates against a powerful American line-up.
Meanwhile, London has said its goodbyes to the Games and passed the baton to Rio de Janeiro.
They will lay on an Olympics in 2016 where the stars will surely include a 27-year-old McIlroy.
Golf is returning to the Olympic Games then after a gap of more than 100 years and something will have to go seriously wrong if he is not gunning for gold (probably for Great Britain, although the option remains open for him to choose Ireland).
How many majors he will have by then is anyone’s guess. But the sky is the limit.
And to think there were “What’s Wrong with Rory?” headlines little over a month ago after he missed four halfway cuts in five starts.
He now sees that spell as a blessing in disguise, making him realise what had to be done and how best to handle the burden of expectation – not just other people’s, but his own.
It might be a while before the same question is asked. He is faster to two majors than Woods, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo or any of the “Great Triumvirate” of Harry Vardon, JH Taylor and James Braid.
Only Young Tom Morris, Gene Sarazen, John McDermott and Seve Ballesteros did it quicker.
Crisis? What crisis?
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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