I am, of course, talking about the young Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, who made winning last week’s United States Open at the Congressional Country Club look easy, almost too easy. It was all McIlroy, all weekend, at the Congressional, and after posting a final round 69, he won the tournament eight shots ahead of Jason Day at 16-under par. Because he crushed the rest of the field all weekend, the U.S. Open was kind of a bore, but I think everyone was happy to see the kid win in that fashion.
With the win, the 22-year-old McIlroy became the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923. He also broke Tiger’s record of most strokes under par at a U.S. open, set in 200 at Pebble Beach at 12 under par.
According to Golf Magazine, McIlroy hit 62 of 72 greens during last weekend’s major, which is a record since the U.S. Golf Association has kept track of the statistics. His 268 total broke the tournament’s scoring record by four strokes and when he went to 17 under par on the 16th hole on Sunday, it was the lowest score anyone has ever reached at any point during a U.S. Open. It was a performance that, at one time, only Tiger Woods could accomplish.
“You can tell Rory has had this type of talent in him for some time now,” Phil Mickelson told Golf Magazine after conclusion of the Open. “To see him putting it together is pretty neat.”
McIlroy needed to put together a complete victory after his fall from grace earlier this year in Augusta, where he had a complete collapse in the final round. After leading three days in the Masters and then breaking down and losing a substantial lead, I wondered how bad and how long that Masters loss was going to scar McIlroy. A collapse like that could ruin a career, especially in golf.
But McIlroy did the right thing. He took the emotion from that loss and put it to work in a positive way. He went out and got a Major victory as soon as he could to put that Masters behind him. Going into the final round last weekend, the story line was whether or not the golfing world would see another monumental collapse by McIlroy. After seeing him play on Friday, I knew there was no way he was going to relinquish his lead at any point during the rest of the tournament. We had all seen how painful that Masters breakdown was, and there was no way he was going to let that happen again.
His lead was so great throughout the weekend that nobody saw a second collapse on the horizon, so nobody watched. Ratings for this year’s Open were down from the previous year.
Like it or not, McIlroy’s victory launched him into a never-ending comparison to Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and whether or not he will be the next golfer to put Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major victories to rest. I know many of you are rolling your eyes at this notion already. Yes, McIlroy now has only one Major victory in his pocket, and is well away from Tiger’s 14 and even further away from Jack’s 18, but why not have that conversation? He’s so young; when he wants to dominate the rest of the field, he dominates the rest of the field. And, damn it, he’s so likable. Unlike Tiger, he isn’t afraid to smile, show emotion or even chew the fat with spectators while waiting for a green to clear. Why shouldn’t we be rooting for this kid to be our next Tiger Woods? He certainly takes our attention away from the real Tiger Woods, who is injured.
With his first Major in the bag, I think McIlroy's next 10 victories are going to come easy now. I suspect when he gets to 12 or 13, or wherever Tiger is at that point, it’s going to be tough for McIlroy, because that’s when the real pressure to perform is going to hit. Make no mistake about it, McIlroy has his sights set on beating that record. He can see it and we can see it. Now all he has to do is win, and win, and win, and win…you get the point.
Now that McIlroy has launched himself into the world of golf Gods, it’s anybody’s guess when he will actually take up membership on the PGA Tour again. McIlroy played as a PGA Tour member in 2010 but decided to primarily play on the European Tour this year. This limits him to playing just 10 PGA tournaments this year, but how long will this last?
For American golf fans, McIlroy is the next big thing. How long will it take for his popularity in the states to pressure him into entering the PGA Tour? My guess is that next year, he will be a member, and playing more than 10 PGA tournaments a year.