I Am McIlroy, Hear Me Ror

June 16, 2011

This week’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland may not have the complete attention of casual golf fans due to Tiger Woods’ absence from the tournament. However, on Sunday afternoon, Rory McIlroy may be ready to accept the role awaiting someone once Woods leaves the game for good: Golf’s Next Superstar.

To the casual golf fan, McIlroy is the young lad from Northern Ireland who in April blew a chance to become the youngest player to win the Masters since Tiger Woods in 1997. From Thursday until Sunday that week at Augusta, one was hard pressed to find a member of the media who hadn’t compared McIlroy to Woods at least once. However, the comparison to Woods is not something that just came out of nowhere. Although he only has two professional wins (one PGA tour victory and one European Tour victory), McIlroy has performed remarkably well at the tournaments that truly define a player’s legacy: major championships. Since he began playing all four majors in a season, McIlroy has finished tied for 10th (2009 U.S. Open) and tied for 3rd three times (2009 and 2010 PGA Championship, 2010 The Open Championship) in those tournaments. Since 2009, he has made the cut in all but one of the tournaments he has entered, which coincidentally was last year’s U.S. Open.

Right now, McIlroy is getting compared almost as often to Greg Norman as he is to Tiger Woods, and for good reason. After blowing a four stroke lead on Sunday at the Masters, his performance goes down in history with some of the biggest collapses on the biggest stage. However, there is reason for hope in the McIlroy camp. Those that are paying attention to this week’s tournament are very curious to see if a future star will emerge, with Woods having loosened considerably what seemed to be an unbreakable grip on the title of golf’s most dominant player. Considering the uncertainty that surrounds that future, the next player that comes up big on a stage like the U.S. Open may gain an advantage.

While Phil Mickelson can still serve as the main attraction for the PGA Tour, he cannot assume the role of its ultimate star. No, that distinction has to go to a player with more youth and potential than Mickelson. Maybe it’s Dustin Johnson. But maybe Johnson is more Greg Norman than McIlroy, as Johnson imploded similarly in last year’s U.S. Open in the final round. Maybe it’s Martin Kaymer. But is Kaymer capable of bringing his best golf to every major championship, as the game’s next star would have to do?

Of all the potential candidates, McIlroy is in possibly the best position to assume the role. While Woods is out, the conversation about who may be the next star will continue to be a hot topic. After starting strong at Congressional in the opening round, McIlroy has again positioned himself to be in command when it really counts. If he could win this weekend, it would create the perfect storm: the kid who has seemingly always had the potential to be great finally comes into his own, and right when the game of golf needs it most.

It would be foolish to hand over the crown as the next king of golf too quickly. Tiger Woods will be back, and he still has time to complete his legacy and surpass Jack Nicklaus on the all-time Major wins list. However, the general public is as quick to anoint as they are to forget. If Rory McIlroy delivers in Bethesda on Sunday, then “Master’s choke” becomes “Master’s choke?”, and McIlroy jumps to the head of the line as the prince who will someday succeed the king.

– K. Becks

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