The world of golf has been queueing up to heap praise on golf sensation Rory McIlroy after his record-breaking victory in the US Open. Many believe it will be the first of many ‘majors’.
The 22-year-old Northern Irishman won the tournament by eight shots, breaking several records in the process. His total score of 268 is the best at a US Open, four shots lower than the previous record jointly held by Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Janzen and Jim Furyk. No player in the history of the tournament had ever been below 12 under par. McIlroy was 17 under at one point and finished the 72 holes on 16 under. He is also the youngest US Open winner since Bobby Jones back in 1923. To put that in more recent context, Tiger Woods was more than two years older than McIlroy when he won his first US Open in 2000.
Woods himself has identified McIlroy as a future world number one and past and present champions have been generous in their praise of a golfer who was hitting 40-yard drives at the age of just two.
Jack Nicklaus, winner of no fewer of 18 majors, gave his illustrious endorsement. “I think this kid’s going to have a great career,” Nicklaus told NBC television. “I don’t think there’s any question about it. He’s got all the components. I like his moxie. I like the way he carries himself. You’ve got to have confidence in what you’re doing. He’s got a lot of people rooting for him. He’s humble when he needs to be humble and he’s confident when he needs to be confident.”
Four-time major winner Phil Mickelson played alongside McIlroy in the first two rounds of the tournament at the Congressional Country Club in Maryland. “He’s playing some terrific golf,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. You can tell that Rory has had this type of talent in him for some time now, and to see him putting it together is pretty neat.”
Mickelson’s US Ryder Cup team-mate Steve Stricker agrees, saying “He’s got the world in front of him. Fundamentally he’s as good as we’ve seen ever in my era, take Tiger Woods out of it. When Tiger was going well, that’s as good as I’ve ever seen. I think Rory is in that same boat. His swing is mechanically sound, he’s got a great short game, he putts it well and he’s long. He’s got all the tools.”
Graeme McDowell, who won last year’s US Open at Pebble Beach, has followed his compatriot’s career since McIlroy posted a cool 61 on McDowell’s home course in Portrush, Northern Ireland. “Nothing this kid does ever surprises me,” McDowell said after his last round at Congressional. “I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I’ve ever seen, simple as that. He’s great for golf. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game and perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar. Maybe Rory is it. He’s the best driver of the golf ball I’ve ever seen.”
The comparisons with Tiger Woods were inevitable, given the precocity of McIlroy’s talent and his ability to run away with a tournament, a quality recognised by triple major winner Padraig Harrington. “Rory has set himself apart now in potential,” the Irishman said. “Rory has been lapping the field. Sometimes you see a guy run away with a tournament and they’re draining putts from all angles. From what I’ve seen, he’s been very comfortable and it’s been well within him. It’s really been a very easygoing lapping of the field. There might be people capable of winning a major, but there are not too many people capable of dominating and running away from the field in a major.”
The manner of McIlroy’s first major victory will silence those who questioned his mental strength after he threw away a four shot lead at the final round of The Masters in Augusta two months ago. A disastrous score of 80 undid all the good work he had put in during the first three rounds. But with one major now in the bag, those doubts seem to have been dispelled and McIlroy himself is looking forward to winning plenty more. He adds that he would relish the prospect of going into battle with an in-form Tiger Woods, who missed this US Open through injury and who has struggled with form since widely publicised upheaval in his private life. McIlroy told reporters after victory on Sunday:
“I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly. I kept telling you guys that and I don’t know if you believed me or not. But here you go. Nice to prove some people wrong.
“It’s nice that people say that ‘he could be this’ or ‘he could be that’ or ‘he could win 20 major championships’, but at the end of the day I’ve won one. I obviously want to add to that tally. When you win a major quite early in your career, everyone is going to draw comparisons, it’s natural,” he said, alluding to Woods. “It would just be nice obviously for him to be healthy again and get his knee and his Achilles in shape and be back out on the golf course, because he does bring a little something extra to tournaments. He’s Tiger Woods. I’m just happy to be sitting here with the trophy that has his name on it.”