With his scruffy hair and baby face, Rory McIlroy looks more a skateboarding kid nephew than a professional golfer.
But at the 2011 U.S. Open, McIlroy instead looked like a man among boys, torching Congressional Country Club with a 16-under 268, tying or breaking 12 records in the process.
The nearly flawless performance by the 22-year old from Northern Ireland sent the golf world into a frenzy, raising so many questions that even Dr. Phil would get a headache.
And it all happened amidst questions of what would be in a tournament that didn’t even see Tiger Woods set foot on the grounds due to injury.
Now that the dust is settling, where does this leave the golf world?
Have we finally found someone to go head-to-head with Tiger, when others in the past – David Duval being the prime example – couldn’t? Is McIlroy instead primed to be the next Tiger, leaving Woods in the dust, or does Tiger still have a chance to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record? Or do we perhaps have a future where McIlroy himself could eventually cause a threat to that record?
All are questions that could be argued, especially after the wire-to-wire clinic that Rory put on during the four-day span at Congressional.
But the most logical result – which hasn’t been mentioned to this point – is simply this: We are likely to be witnessing the birth of a modern day Jack and Arnie rivalry.
Before you dismiss it, look at some of the similarities that exist.
But first, let’s take a look at Tiger. Woods may be battling injuries at the current time, but he’s only 35-years old and has plenty of golf left in him. Jack Nicklaus won 3 major championships in his 40’s, including the ’86 Masters at age 46.
One shouldn’t look at Tiger’s current mental makeup either. It’s clear enough that Tiger didn’t have a care about personal situations in the past, nor did he have a care about personalities on the golf course. The one main goal has always been the major championship record, and injuries are the only thing getting in his way.
Well, that is until Rory burst onto the scene.
McIlroy clearly dominated this year’s U.S. Open, winning by eight shots and shattering numerous records. He also dominated The Masters until the final nine, where it all fell apart. But don’t look at Augusta as one choke, followed by one other solid performance. McIlroy clearly learned his major lesson, but most notably, has been right there in the past. Just look at his best finishes in the four major tournaments: The Masters (tied for 15th, but dominanted ‘til the final 9), U.S. Open (won this year at Congressional), British Open (tied for 3rd in 2010) and the PGA Championship (tied for 3rd in both 2009 and 2010).
Finishes like that in all four majors by age 22 prove that McIlroy is no fluke.
Rory has been right there on numerous occasions, but we never truly noticed until he put on a Tiger-like show – and that’s where the Arnie and Jack comparisons begin.
The following that Tiger built for years closely resembles that of how “Arnie’s Army” was many years ago. McIlroy has already built a following of his own, flashing smiles while attacking pins on the course, all the while leaving fans chanting “Rory, Rory, Rory” on every hole at the Open.
Arnold Palmer – now 81-years of age, won his first of seven majors in 1958. Jack Nicklaus, ten years younger, crashed the party in 1962 by winning the U.S. Open (his first major victory) at the age of 22. Palmer was 32 that year.
Tiger Woods, currently 35, won his first of 14 majors in 1997, which many will recall was his dominant performance at The Masters. Similar to Nicklaus, McIlroy crashes onto the scene winning the U.S. Open at the age of 22, also just over a decade younger.
The timing is one comparison, but the other is Woods himself. Too many people are discounting Tiger Woods and saying his career is over. That kind of competitive fire is not a switch that you just turn off. Woods likely reached his boiling point watching Rory torch many of his major championship records over the weekend.
Mark my words – Tiger will be back – and sooner rather than later. The only way he doesn’t top Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record will have nothing to do with him or his mental game, but instead the new wave of competition in the world of golf, headlined by McIlroy.
For those that thought the PGA was ready to hit a downturn, think again – there is likely to be a resurgence coming – and all signs point to a reincarnation of Nicklaus and Palmer, only in the form of McIlroy and Woods.
The only question remains: Will the biggest roar come from Rory, or from a rejuvenated Tiger? Or perhaps someone else crashes the party altogether?
Hide your flagsticks… golf isn’t fading – it’s just gettin’ good.
Who Will Finish With MORE Major Championship Victories?
- Jack Nicklaus (60%, 6 Votes)
- Tiger Woods (40%, 4 Votes)
- Rory McIlroy (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 10