Rory McIlroy’s Masters’ meltdown will now recede into merciful memory, annihilated by his exhilarating march to victory at the 2011 US Open. Only Tiger Woods’ 2000 win at Pebble Beach can be compared to the record-setting four rounds McIlroy played this week at Congressional.
As I wrote on Friday and Saturday, McIlroy’s composure after his Masters’ disaster, his courage in facing up to the questions about his performance, his insistence that he would learn from the collapse, presaged this performance for the ages. Not only did he shoot four rounds in the 60s on a long, strong golf course, matching Lee Trevino’s 1968 performance at Oak Hill (with rounds of 69-68-69-69,Trevino was the first player in Open history to play all four regulation rounds in the 60s, tying the scoring record of 275), McIlroy’s total of 268 broke the previous scoring record by 4 shots. That’s Usain Bolt-level record setting, a quantum leap in a sport whose records creep forward in tiny increments.
Rory’s win was as dominating as Tiger’s Pebble romp, but equally unexpected. Rory is 22, and his game has no weaknesses. His swing does not explode against his joints, but goes through a graceful arc with smooth precision. He’s here to stay. In retrospect, the final round at Augusta will look like a fluke, the outlier in a career that is sure to accumulate more majors.
The exuberance of the performance led to some hyperbole, as when Padraig Harrington suggested that Rory might win as many majors as Jack Nicklaus, a quest only Tiger has ever seemed fitted to pursue. When asked about Harrington’s prediction in a press conference after the third round, Rory could only shake his head and tsk, “Paddy, Paddy….” He has the Irish instinct for repartee and a genuine kindness to sharpen and sustain it.
Golf was lucky to have someone as dynamic as Woods come on the scene almost twenty years ago, but cursed in equal measure when the game’s greatest player disgraced himself and tarnished his sport with revelations of sexual escapades and an accompanying campaign of cover-up and deceit. Now, with Rory, the game has once again summoned a champion for the ages, but one from whom a fall from grace seems unimaginable.
Ironically, Rory’s ascendency may give Tiger room to recover and re-emerge. The game is in good shape now, with Rory and Jason Day and the other rising stars, so Tiger can stay in his lair and lick his wounds and think about his return while the golf world’s attention is focused elsewhere.
Rory McIlroy is the real deal. Ireland is now the world’s top producer of golf champions on a per capita basis: good on ya!