I guess this is how it’s going to be. Rory McIlroy’s rise to #1 in the World Golf Rankings was inevitable according to most scribes penning love letters to the young lad today. I suppose I should have seen it coming as well. Lately sports. for me, has been an exercise in realizing that wishing something won’t happen doesn’t get you very far. I’ve become the kid in Bad Santa. Giants–Super Bowl. Rory–Number One. Prepare Miami for good news. The way things are going, there’s no way they’ll be denied the NBA Title.
Rory’s win Sunday provided some compelling theater. Tiger Woods, who had spent the 1st three days of the tournament fighting himself, suddenly had everything click. He breezed through an error-free day, which culminated with an eagle on the 18th hole. The 62 (his best Sunday round ever) brought him within two shots of McIlroy, who still had a handful of holes to play. From that point on, a series of perfectly executed chips and bunker shots sealed the win for Rory. I watched without much hope of a different outcome. Tour pros don’t often skull bunkers shots across the green into a lake, but I guess you can dream. Johnny Miller was dreaming. He was dying for a McIlroy/Woods playoff showdown and documented every possible way Rory could make a bogey. It never happened. Rory won comfortably and became the 1st number won to actually own a major since Martin Kaymer.
Many believe McIlroy will succeed where Kaymer failed, using the number one ranking to springboard his career to even loftier heights. He’s certainly become the most steady top-tier performer in the world, hardly ever leaving the top-5 of any tournament he plays. His win yesterday, though, was just his fifth worldwide. Everything appears to be in place, but he still needs to win a lot of events to realize his obvious potential. The assumption that he will win dozens of tournaments, loads of majors, is already out there. In Sports Illustrated’s weekly tournament wrap, one writer suggests that Rory will retire as the 3rd greatest player of all-time. I’m not sure such bold and rushed predictions are appropriate at this point.
It could be Tiger who has the biggest say in the kind of start Rory gets to supplanting him atop a list of the game’s modern greats. McIlroy will have plenty of competition from his generation, but there’s no player aside from Woods who can captivate a crowd, or interest the public enough to be a mega-star. Tiger has already kept an entire generation of players down. He trimmed the Major totals of Ernie Els, Phil, Lee Westwood, Sergio and many others. Is that what Rory is going to do to the likes of Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Kaymer, etc? Can Woods summon four or five more productive years to remain a factor in all this? His play Sunday suggests he can, but his inability to put together four rounds suggests his real dominance is forever in the past.
What I can say about Rory is he seems to have a quality that few players have and that’s his ability to make people overreact. It’s now seen as a given that Rory will win the Masters, or at the very least be the favorite. Like I mentioned earlier it was just his fifth win, but now there is no longer a single doubt about his ability to close. In the span of two weeks we’ve forgotten about Westwood and Donald, we’ve forgotten that this was perhaps going to be Sergio’s year to win a major, we’ve forgotten that it was only 3 weeks ago that we crowned Phil Mickelson the prohibitive favorite at Augusta. That’s all because of Rory, and even if he’s 60 or 70 wins, and 13 Majors short, that one quality is very Tiger-like. Now we just have to see if Tiger can win before Augusta and see what that does to everyone’s expectations for the year’s first major.