When Rory McIlroy walked off of Congressional’s 18th hole last Father’s Day, the comparisons to one of golf’s greatest players ever were in no short supply. His dominance reminded people of Tiger. His poise reminded people of Tiger. His resilience (and wow did NBC run that word into the freaking ground. They had an entire 10-minute blurb about the resilience McIlroy showed not only within the tournament, but all his life. They must have figured out that they had to spice up what was a yawner of a championship) reminded people of Tiger. The Monday following the tournament, columnists across the country rushed to elect McIlroy as golf’s next big thing, the next savior, the next Tiger. Am I the only one who thinks all of this is a little premature?
Well first thing is first: McIlroy did play some incredible golf at this past U.S. Open. He had a record-breaking score with 16 under. He had a big, fat margin of victory with 8 strokes. He only three-putted once in the entire tournament, and that came with only two holes to go. McIlroy did not just win; he absolutely blew everyone else away. To draw comparisons to Tiger, the victory would have to be impressive, and it certainly was.
But while the performance was indeed Tiger-esque, I am not ready to draw a line between Woods and McIlroy. First of all, Congressional may not be the right course to be host to “one of the toughest challenges in golf”. Sure, it may be one of the longer courses on the tour, but power is not an issue for any professional golfer. These guys are all hitting it 300 yards easy. What makes a tournament hard these days is an emphasis on accuracy and precision. Did you see those fairways at Congressional? I could have hit those things; they might as well be driving ranges for the pros. So while McIlroy played extremely well, it was not the most difficult course, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep it up when tougher courses come into play.
Second of all, Tiger Woods is known for his clutch golfing ability. Remember “The Chip”? If you have a shot to your credit that stands as one of the defining approach shots in golf history, you can sign your name into legend right then and there. Tiger has made more putts and has hit more clutch, championship-sealing shots then probably anyone else who has ever played. McIlroy did not have to do that at this U.S. Open. That could be further evidence toward his “greatness” in some people’s eyes, but before any parallels can be drawn to Woods, the man from Northern Ireland has to produce when it counts. He melted down at the Masters back in April, and even when his substantial lead dwindled in that tournament and things got close, he still failed to turn it around and make the shots that mattered in order to scrape a win back together.
Third of all, and perhaps most obvious, is McIlroy’s scarce amount of credentials when compared to Woods’. Some guy wins one major and all of a sudden everyone’s ready to crown him the reigning king of golf? Sure, maybe he has been hanging around these past couple tournaments, even before his win, but Phil Mickelson’s been hanging around for what feels like forever now, and he never received the kind of “Chosen One” hype that McIlroy seems to be receiving. Tiger, meanwhile, has 14 major titles (did I just hear the phrase “beast-mode engaged”?). Rory has a long way to go before we can have any Tiger Woods talks. When people try to compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan, people talk about the championships. When people talk about Dan Marino as compared to other great quarterbacks, people talk about the championships. Why should golf be any different? Tiger has the biggest wallet right now, end of story, and one solid round of golf should not have people jumping up and down in anticipation of the next big thing.
Finally, and most significantly, Rory McIlroy has yet to impact golf the way Tiger Woods has (Okay, I know this would have to be said eventually, but can we forget about the sex for a second? You guys are like a bunch of teenage boys for crying out loud. I know all you guys have been thinking about this whole time is how at least McIlroy was not bone-headed enough to cheat on his wife. We are talking strictly golf here. Sorry, had to clear that up). When Tiger was in his prime, golf fans would turn on the television to watch him, and usually him alone. As sports people, I think we all appreciate it when someone shows a true mastery over their craft, and Tiger was pretty freaking good. I know that I for one watched golf to watch Woods, and when he was not involved, it just was not all that interesting. To be honest, I simply do not see us all rushing to our living rooms right now to see what kind of spectacle Rory McIlroy recently put on. Tiger changed golf in the sense that he made it more appealing to more people. He was popular, so his sport was in turn popular.
After the fall of Tiger Woods, it seems like the world of golf is growing more and more desperate to find a replacement to one of the all-time greats. A few weeks ago, a young man from Northern Ireland showed glimmers of what could turn into long-term success, but that is all they are right now: just glimmers. Golf is going to find its hero one day, and whether that is McIlroy, someone else, or even Tiger back to redeem himself physically and socially, is still on the table. Another Tiger will come eventually, in one way or another, and while it may be unclear who will embody this prophetic “Second Coming”, one thing is certain: the world is going to be absolutely ready for them.