Ever since Rory McIlroy’s blowout win at the 2011 U.S. Open, the talk has been that McIlroy may be the next Tiger Woods. His swing is one of the best in the game, much like Woods’ was during his prime. And he won his first major going away, much like Woods did in the '97 Masters.
However, the most telling sign of whether McIlroy will become the next great golf superstar will come Sunday afternoon. With a three-shot lead in the PGA Championship, McIlroy has a chance to send a statement that his game is capable of making everyone else feel like they are playing for second.
That is one of the best things Woods did in his prime, shut out all contenders early on and turn the back nine on Sunday into a ceremonial walk.
Until the 2009 PGA Championship, Woods had never lost when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead. McIlroy owns not only a share of the lead, but a three-stroke margin. His closest competitor, Carl Pettersson, looks in pain every time he sets up a shot.
It is highly unlikely that McIlroy will win by the eight shots he did in the U.S. Open at Congressional. His chance to do that ended on his first three holes Sunday morning, when he missed simple putts on 10, 11 and 12.
What he can do, though, is post a routine 3-under, 69, which would make Pettersson shoot at least a 66 to catch him. That seems unlikely for a man who is just hoping not to get back pains on his tee shot.
McIlroy has been criticized for not having a killer instinct. It’s thought he views the game more as a hobby than as his life’s mission, which is the way Woods has approached the sport for the last 15 years.
If McIlroy can win by another large margin on Sunday afternoon, he can start setting his sights on officially becoming the next Tiger.