Padraig Harrington believes that Rory McIlroy could be set to become the greatest golfer of all time if he continues to perform to the highest level.

McIlroy won the third Major in his career, The Open, after a commanding performance at the Royal Liverpool on Sunday and Harrington thinks that this is just the start of his success.

'Very successful career'

"Rory has won three Majors in four years, which is pretty good," The Independent quote Harrington as saying. “If he continues to win at that rate, he'll have a very successful career.”

"He could be competitive for the next 20 years and that's 15 more Majors.”

If Harrington, who is a three time Major winner himself, is correct in his prediction it would mean that McIlroy would establish himself as one of the greatest players ever to play the sport.

The record for the most Major wins currently is held by Jack Nicklaus, with his 18 Major wins still being unprecedented.

And, although that target is still some way off, the fact that McIlroy is even being considered as in with a chance of doing it shows just how highly regarded he is.

The 25-year-old still has plenty of time left in his career and it is certainly not out of the question that he will reach the high target, but it is also dangerous to say that it is a guarantee.

Tiger Woods comparisons

Many considered it a certainty the Tiger Woods would surpass Nicklaus’ target, when he was younger, but golf’s biggest current star has suffered on and off the course recently and it now looks unlikely that he will get the five Major wins required for him to reach 19 and beat the record.

It is six years since Woods last one on of golf’s four most coveted tournaments and his struggles have been hard to watch for most fans, even if there is hope that he can return to the top of his game after his recent surgery of a back injury that has been hampering his play for some time.

It is something that Harrington warned of, insisting that McIlroy will have to remain right at the top of his game if he is to fulfill his obvious potential.

“As we've found with other players, there are things we can't foresee down the road.

“Nobody ever would have thought Tiger would stop at 14. When he got to 14 it appeared almost inevitable he'd get to 18.

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"Just because you're good enough doesn't mean it's going to happen. Things happen, injuries for example

"If Rory is to get to high numbers, it is the next years that will determine it.

“In 10 years' time, then (his strike rate) might slow down to one every two years, so he won't be as prolific. So the time for him to play his 'A' game is right now.”

McDowell urges caution

McIlroy’s compatriot, Graeme McDowell, is similarly cautious about the Ulsterman’s chances of reaching such a considerable number of Major wins.

There is a feeling amongst many golfers, pundits and supporters that McIlroy can begin to dominate golf for the years to come now, but McDowell believes there is too much strength in depth to allow this to happen.

"There are so many good players around now. For every Rory McIlroy there is an Adam Scott, a Jordan Spieth, a Sergio Garcia, a Tiger or a Phil,” he said.

Deep talent pool

"The talent pool is so deep. Everyone out here on tour is so good. It will be very hard for Rory to dominate the sport in the way Tiger did. I don't think we'll see anybody dominate unless somebody comes along who can perfect the unperfectable.”

It is a statement that certainly rings true, but there can be no doubting that McIlroy is the number one player in the world at the moment.

He has struggled with “Freaky Fridays” – second days, which cost him a chance of victory - for much of the season so far, but overall his form has been impressive and his Open performance suggests that this particular problem may well have been conquered.

If it has, more success if certain to come – whether it will be enough to reach Nicklaus’ record remains to be seen, though.

Topics:
Golf
The Open
Rory McIlroy
Graeme McDowell