Rory Leaves Tiger and all Others in the Dust
It’s appropriate that Rory McIlroy took a bite out of the golf record books in winning the 2014 PGA Championship on the same Sunday as the start of “Shark Week.” The 25-year-old Irishman is the big fish in the golf pond now, and I’m not sure if anyone will be able to challenge him for the next decade. Only Tiger and Nicklaus were younger than Rory when they won their first four majors and no one has shot more strokes under par during their first four majors. Rory is a cumulative 62-under-par for his four majors; Tiger was 60 shots under par, Tom Watson 46 and Nick Faldo 38-under. What that means is that Rory isn’t just squeaking by or pulling out wins because the rest of the field is having a bad week. Rory is setting a new standard in golf.
Sure Tiger is still the benchmark for this generation with his 14 majors, but he has become a non-factor in recent years. Tiger’s last major victory was, believe it or not, that 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate to win the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Might as well have been the 1908 U.S. Open because more and more he fades from the memories of fans and golfers under 35 years old. No one thought they’d see the equal of Tiger during their lifetime but Woods isn’t even 40 yet and here’s Rory, all Irish brogue and freckles, making people forget about that guy in red who used to be really good.
Tiger had a power game during his prime and hit amazing shots but the problem he has today – he’s a terrible driver – is the same problem he’s always had. The difference is, back 10 years ago he could pull off the recovery shots or fantastic putts to overcome the driver woes. Rory hits it further than Tiger did and he’s dead-solid down the middle almost every time. McIlroy also pulls off the legendary shots when he needs to, another sign of a long-lasting champion. On the par-5 number 10 Sunday, Rory was trailing Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson by three shots. He stood 256 yards out for his second shot. The three-wood started well left, so much so that Faldo, in the CBS tower, said he caught it on the heel and might be in trouble. Instead the ball kept fading to the right, landed 20 yards short of the green and rolled to within 7 feet from the cup. The eagle-putt pulled Rory to within a shot of the lead. His birdie on 13 pulled him even and another birdie on 17 gave him a two-shot lead with just 18 to play.
The PGA Championship may be the least of the four golf majors but it traditionally has the strongest field. Rory didn’t win Sunday over a bunch of shrubs; he out-dueled Phil and Ernie, and Rickie and Furyk and Stenson. Sure Tiger was in the field too, but only for the first two rounds. Tiger now has to take a long time out and re-evaluate his health and his game. His swing may be more messed up than his back. He’s getting outplayed by 65-year-old Tom Watson, the Ryder Cup captain who Tiger was trying to impress enough to get a spot on the team in September. No FedEx Cup playoffs or Ryder Cup for Tiger. It has to be humiliating for a guy like Woods who never seemed to want to make friends or be a good guy on the course. Winning alone made him a superstar. Now he can’t finish tournaments and everyone loves McIlroy. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Within the past three years, Tiger has become just good and Rory has become amazing. It was an early start to Shark Week in Louisville on Sunday and the winner not only devoured the field, but the Tiger as well.