Golf has a new superstar.
Rory McIlroy captured a wire-to-wire- victory at the 111th U.S. Open this weekend at Congressional Country Club. The 22 year old from Northern Ireland put on a virtuoso performance that had observers comparing him to a young Tiger Woods.
He finished at -16, eight clear of runner-up Jason Day. His 268 total is an Open record; he joined Lee Trevino (1968 Oak Hill) and Lee Janzen (1993 Baltustrol) as the only Open champions who shot all four rounds in the 60s.
Since turning pro, McIlroy has electrified fans. He has gone low in all three of his professional wins. He shot an opening round 64 en route to his maiden victory at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009. He shot a scintillating final round 62 to grab his first PGA Tour title at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship.
This week he opened with rounds of 65 and 66. He made four-time major winner Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, the next American star, look ordinary as they played alongside McIlroy over the first two days.
He has played his best on the game’s biggest stages. Last summer, he opened with a 63 at St. Andrews. This spring, he shot an opening round 65 at the Masters and held the lead there after 18, 36 and 54 holes.
But critics wondered if he could hold it together for 72 holes of major championship pressure. At last year’s British Open, he followed his 63 with an 80. In April, he shot a final round 80 to finish in a share of fifteenth place at Augusta. Skeptics believed a balky putter and a wayward driver would prevent him from breaking through at majors.
McIlroy silenced those critics this week. He had the golf world abuzz with his performance. Johnny Miller said he had the best swing in the game on the NBC broadcast. Gary Koch and Peter Jacobson echoed those sentiments. They also noted his improved putting stroke, which he’s worked on with Dave Stockton.
The victory puts McIlroy at number 4 in the official world golf rankings. That just shows how out of touch the ranking system is. Neither of the top two players (Luke Donald and Lee Westwood) has won a major championship. Martin Kaymer, the 2010 PGA Champion, hasn’t factored in either major this year (MC at the Masters, T 39 at the US Open).McIlroy has finished fifteenth or better at the last four major championships.
Time will tell how far Rory McIlroy will go and how many major championships he’ll win. Some hyperbolic observers think he’ll win double digits. Others believe he’ll have a Nick Faldo type (6 majors) career. One thing’s for sure, he’ll be the favorite when the game’s best meet for the Open Championship next month at Royal St. George’s.