The other day, Rory McIlroy won the first British Open, and third major of his illustrious career. Rory dominated from start to finish, never really leaving the outcome in doubt. McIlroy joins Tiger and Jack as just the third player in the history of golf to win three majors before the age of 26.
McIlroy may not have had to outlast a vintage Tiger Woods, but the leaderboard was loaded on Sunday. Rickie Fowler finished second yesterday, after just finishing the U.S. Open tied for second, and the Masters tied for fifth. Also at the top of the leaderboard were Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, and Dustin Johnson among others. Sure, there are only two majors between those four players, but those players are ranked 1st, 5th, 10th, and 15th respectively in the world right now. And yet, the championship was never in question. Rory had it in his grasp for the entire tournament.
Rory has shown the ability, when he has it going, to blow by the field in a manner reminiscent of Tiger. He’s had an up-and-down season marred by poor second rounds, but at Hoylake he put it all together, for all four rounds. His relationship with Caroline Wozniacki was fun on social media, but ultimately seemed to compromise his focus away from the game. With McIlroy focused solely on golf, he is the heavy favorite in the world.
The dominance that McIlroy has shown on occasion brings the inevitable comparisons to Tiger and Jack, but those are premature. After all, Tiger had six majors at the same juncture in his career, and Rory has three. If Rory’s goal is to surpass Tiger, it will be futile. Tiger’s consistency was perhaps more impressive than the number of majors he won. He almost never missed the cut. What Tiger said about Rory was harsh, and maybe just bitter, but also true:
“When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad. It’s one or the other. If you look at his results, he’s kind of that way. Very similar to what Phil does. He has his hot weeks and he has his weeks where he’s off. And that’s just the nature of how he plays the game. It’s no right way or wrong way. But it’s just the nature of how he plays.”
At this point, Rory is a very good player, probably the most talented player on tour, but also too inconsistent to dominate. Or maybe, just not quite good enough (yet). To do what Tiger did requires not only a historically high level of skill, but also a consistency to be atop the leaderboard every week. Golf needs someone like Rory to pounce on the Tour and start dominating, however unlikely that is.
Rather than foolishly searching for the next Tiger Woods, golf fans should enjoy what it has in Rory, and the other young guns–Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day among others– surging to the top of the leaderboards. There may not be a player in that group who wins double digit majors, but the possibility of some real rivalries is tantalizing. It’s something Tiger’s era never truly had.