Monday, June 20, 2011

The Rise of Rory: Will he be better than Tiger?

(photo courtesy of

At the Masters in April, Rory McIlroy had a four-stroke lead heading into Sunday. But the 21-year-old suffered through one of the worst final-round collapses in major history, shooting an 80 and losing by 10 strokes.

Just two months later and a year older (technically, since his birthday was May 4), McIlroy was again in an enviable position through three rounds of a major tournament. His eight-stroke lead heading into Sunday's final round at the U.S. Open would seem safe for any other golfer but with his Masters collapse fresh in the mind of many, including himself, there was reason to think the tournament wasn't quite over yet.

McIlroy, who called his Masters meltdown "a character-building day" back in April, proved that statement true by shooting a 69 in the final round to set the U.S. Open scoring record, one of 12 marks he set this weekend. McIlroy also set the 36-hole and 54-hole scoring record, among others.

Just eight months older than Tiger Woods was when Woods destroyed the Masters in 1997, the comparisons between McIlroy and Woods have been constant in the past day. If you're tired of hearing about it, please stop reading now.

Last year's Open winner Graeme McDowell was quoted as saying McIlroy was the best player he's ever seen, high praise for such a young pro from a fellow major champion. While Woods was a prodigy seemingly from birth, McIlroy has burst onto the PGA scene with much less hype than Woods did, possibly because he doesn't have a father who liked to fuel such a moniker.

The resolve McIlroy showed in his first major following the Masters was impressive to say the least, as similar major meltdowns have crashed the careers of other very talented golfers. That's the first sign to me that McIlroy is on top to stay.

Golf experts everywhere are saying he has the prettiest swing they have ever seen and are even throwing his name around as the premier challenger to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories.

Does all this sound familiar? Wasn't this the same hoopla surrounding Woods early in his career? The difference is, McIlroy has a much better head on his shoulders than Woods at the same age and even now.

Woods would have never handled an epic collapse the way McIlroy did after the Masters. McIlroy was more than willing to face the media and took it as a learning experience, which only spurred his performance this weekend.

We've seen Woods' media ineptitude plenty of times, from the start of his career until the infamous incident with his ex-wife two years ago. Woods' fragile psyche has yet to recover and, despite being just four majors short of Nicklaus, he may never reach the same heights he once achieved or the records many claimed he was a lock for.

McIlroy is the new Woods and frankly, he's easier to root for. I haven't seen him snap at anybody for taking his picture or act out at the attention he's received, positive or negative. I see no reason that McIlroy can't continue his rapid ascent to the top of the golf world, where he is now ranked as the fourth best player on tour.

If I had any advice to McIlroy it would be this: Don't follow in the footsteps of Tiger Woods; make your own path. And please, don't get married until you've won your 19th major.

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