There can be no doubt that the sport of golf has a distinct lack of stella names playing the game at the highest level. That was before last night, of course.
Football has Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, cricket has Kumar Sangakkara and Jimmy Anderson, Rugby Union has Dan Carter and Owen Farrell and golf now has Rory McIlroy.
It is easy to blame Tiger Woods for golf’s sliding participation levels in recent years. Surely it was he - the 14-time major champion - who would record his name in the epilogues of his sport by beating Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18.
But since 2008, Woods’s last major win, a colossal breakdown of body and mind has brought about a catastrophic decline from where he once was.
Going back even before Nicklaus another American - Arnold Palmer; holder of four Green Jackets and career grand slam - was perched on top of golf's everest throughout the 1960s.
After that came the late Seve Ballesteros, a figure hugely admired during the late 1970s and 80s - a period in which the Spaniard won three Opens and two Masters Championships.
After his tragic passing through a brain tumour in 2011, Jose Maria Olazabal’s famous Ryder Cup win in 2012 will be remembered in every European heart not just for the result, but for what he said afterwards.
Emotionally taken over, he paid the simplest and most profound tribute to his great friend and companion.
“This is for him,” said Olazabal, and nothing else was needed.
The McIlroy Era
But now we should all hail king Rory, a pearl from Belfast from a modest background who now has bought his parents a house, as a global sports star who is developing an air of invincibility after his PGA Championship triumph last night, his fourth major of his young career.
All that is left it would seem is for McIlroy to don a certain grassy coloured jacket that seems to have evaded him thus far. ‘That’ final round score of 80 way back in 2011 when the Northern Irishman was a sprouting 21-year-old, must be forgotten and sharpish.
His major wins since then (US Open in 2011, The Open in 2014 and US PGA in 2012 and 2014) should banish any doubters that he crumbles under pressure.
As harsh as it sounds, it seems that ending his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was among one of the best decisions of his life. His life now consists around playing golf, going the gym, going to bed and nothing else. He is clearly benefitting from it.
McIlroy’s already powerful and fluid swing is being strengthened and mechanically enhanced by his efforts away from the greens and fairways. His crunching shots from the tee are getting smacked further and further, suggesting his driver to be not only a mere golf club, but a wand unmatched by any professional.
His grounded nature and modest portrayal when chatting to the press will stay forever you feel. It becomes repetitive always comparing him with Tiger Woods, but for all the American’s gifts avoiding flippancy was certainly not one of them. He had no time for anybody, whereas McIlroy seems to have all the time in the world.
Tiger needs to now step aside, and it seems like he has politely done so already. Rory McIlroy has the golfing world at his feet, the obvious challenge now for the best golfer on the planet is to stay there. Something that could be a lot harder said than done.
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