“Is Rory McIlroy the next Tiger Woods?”It’s an intriguing question, and everyone associated with golf is asking it this morning.
Tiger fundamentally changed the sport. He subverted the cultural associations we have with golf. He destroyed our assumptions about the limits of dominance in a famously difficult sport. He forced the golf establishment to change the way they build courses. He altered the way other golfers play the game.
So far, McIlroy is merely great at golf. And no matter how much he wins, it’s unlikely that he’ll affect the sport and the culture the way Tiger did and still does.
But it’s still fun to compare the two phenoms. Here’s a roundup of “Next Tiger” stories that came out since last night:
It is McIlroy’s time now, his moment. He is the best golfer in the world, whatever the rankings say. He had a big lead going into the final round of the Masters this year, then played like a chopper, shot 80. You wondered how he would come back. He comes back with the greatest U.S. Open in history. (…)
That doesn’t mean he will win as many majors as Tiger has, or come close, that he will sustain brilliance the way Nicklaus and Woods did before him. You never know what a win like this will do to a kid’s career. Or to his life. But know this: They had played 110 Opens before this. There was never one like this. Truly, this was one of the great performances in the history of individual sports.
But Rory McIlroy is not Tiger Woods. He does not strut through golf tournaments with an icy indifference, breaking opponents just by the act of not even looking their way. He isn’t the kind to brush past a group of fans without at least a nod or the tiniest of waves. (…)
You do not go from being the player who blew the Masters and squandered a first-day lead at last summer’s British Open to being the most intimidating presence on the tour in a matter of weeks. You are not yet the game’s best player if thousands are lining the ropes on Sunday, craning their necks half expecting you to crumble.
The last time the athlete deemed the future of golf won his first United States Open, it was Woods 11 years ago at Pebble Beach, where he shot 12 under par and won by 15 strokes. What he did during the 2000 Open seemed unapproachable, much as the man himself turned out to be. His performance was greeted with incredulity, accompanied by words like “otherworldly” and “superhuman.” (…)
Arriving as he has, fulfilling years of anticipation about his potential, McIlroy has brought with him a freshening wind of promise.
If anything, McIlroy’s win evoked Woods at the ’97 Masters. Both were still fresh faces, instantly embraced as good for golf and capable of almost anything. Woods was long on ego, charisma and imagination; McIlroy on charm, tenacity and a flowing, high-finish swing that has the magic combination of consistent tempo and titanic distance with little apparent effort. Woods broke the Masters scoring record (18 under) and won by 12 shots. Comparing Rory’s route to Woods in ’97 is still a stretch, especially considering all the sociological weight of Woods’s win. But the two are more on the same scale.
This matters because the majors clock is now ticking on McIlroy. Like it or not, you can argue that McIlroy might have a better chance of tying or surpassing Nicklaus’ record than Woods does. Woods has a 13-majors lead on the Northern Irishman, but McIlroy leads Tiger in the health category — no surgical scars on his knees, no emotional scars on his personal life. He also has at least, what, 20 more good years and 80 more majors left in his career? (…)
“Maybe,” [McIlroy’s manager Chubby] Chandler said, “it’s the start of the Rory McIlroy era.”
Not maybe. Definitely.
One major does not an era of domination make.
This was McIlroy’s 100th tournament as a professional on the US and European tours. He has three wins. After 100 tournaments, Woods had 28 wins and almost twice as many top-10 finishes. (…)
In the end, it’s unfair to start placing these kind of burdens on McIlroy.
Golf seems happy that with McIlroy, it doesn’t have to worry about a dark side, unlike the current shaky incumbent in the big dressing room with the big star on the door.
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