5 Young Golfers Who Have the Talent to Keep Rory McIlroy from Immortality

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIAugust 15, 2012

5 Young Golfers Who Have the Talent to Keep Rory McIlroy from Immortality

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    Most golf fans know that Rory McIlroy is one of the top two talented players alive. His runaway eight-shot victory at the 2012 PGA Championship further fortified that notion.

    That fellow named Tiger Woods, who shares that once-in-a-generation talent distinction with McIlroy, inspired the 23-year-old Northern Irishman since childhood to become as spectacular as he is today.

    Tiger is not done by any means, but has had difficulties on major weekends as of late.

    Who else has a shot to stop McIlroy from golf immortality? He's pretty much untouchable when he has his best stuff, and he may very well achieve such status regardless of who's in his path.

    Instead of focusing on current household names, let's look at five golfers of the next generation who have a shot at competing with McIlroy down the road—even when he's at his best.

Patrick Cantlay

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    This is the biggest wild card of the bunch. Cantlay finished up his sophomore year at UCLA and decided to go pro after finishing as low amateur in this year's Masters.

    During his distinguished amateur career, Cantlay was the No. 1 amateur in the world rankings for a record 54 consecutive weeks, and 55 weeks total.

    As an amateur at the 2011 Travelers Championship, Cantlay lit it up with a round of 60, as reported by Pat Eaton-Robb of the Associated Press.

    That shocking score netted the 19-year-old a four-stroke lead after two rounds on the PGA Tour, although he wound up in a tie for 24th due to an underwhelming weekend.

    Cantlay has failed to replicate similar success in the infantry stages of his professional career, but it will be exciting to see how he adjusts with golf as his primary focus rather than school.

    With a swing and game like Cantlay's, he may be hailed as the new face of American golf as early as two years from now.

Matteo Manassero

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    I've been an unabashed Rory McIlroy fan, ever since he finished as the low amateur at the 2008 British Open.

    I've grown to be similarly captivated by the 19-year-old Manassero ever since his tie for 13th at the 2009 Open Championship. He played alongside Tom Watson for the first two rounds and was unflappable.

    With phenomenal accuracy off the tee, pinpoint iron play and a natural putting stroke to kill for, Manassero has quickly established himself on the European Tour.

    After turning pro in 2010, Manassero became the youngest winner in the tour's history with a four-stroke victory at the Castello Masters.

    He was 17 years old, and I highly recommend feeling the excitement of his final-round, back-nine charge on YouTube.

    Manassero backed up his Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award campaign with another victory in 2011 at the Malaysian Open.

    This season has been a bit less successful, but Manassero is still so young. He has flashed obvious talent and an ability to win.

    While he doesn't have prodigious power, Manassero has plenty of room to pack some muscle onto his frame in the next few years. With that, he could take his game to a whole other level.

Branden Grace

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    How about these apples: three European Tour wins this season alone.

    After a second stint in qualifying school, Grace has made the most of his opportunity on Europe's top circuit, to say the least. Grace is blossoming into the player he's meant to be, and he's only 24 years old.

    So much success in such a short amount of time may result in Grace being a flash in the pan. After all, he is still a very hit-or-miss sort of fellow.

    Outside of his three victories this year, Grace has only registered one other finish inside the top 10.

    The aggressive nature of Grace's power-based game is similar to that of Rory McIlroy's.

    In a day and age where the playing field is leveled so much through technology, the recipe for success may be going for broke and hoping to have your A-game.

    When Grace has been on, he has produced wonderful results. That sort of potential is the stuff that may challenge McIlroy.

    As long as Grace can continue refining his skills and become a little more consistent, he may have as good a chance as anyone to compete with McIlroy's magnificence.

Ryo Ishikawa

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    Wherever the course, whatever the day, anyone who shoots a 58 in competition is a stud. Ishikawa shot that very score in The Crowns, a Japan Tour event in 2010.

    Talk about some serious firepower. A 12-birdie, six-par performance is about as good as it gets.

    While the 20-year-old has been extremely disappointing in major championships, it's clear that he has the game to compete with anyone on any given day.

    This is Ishikawa's first full year on the PGA Tour, and his ball-striking has been substandard, to say the least. The frustrating lack of success Ishikawa has experienced in the United States is sure to turn around.

    Already a nine-time winner on the Japan Tour, Ishikawa has the winning mentality and talent necessary to rival Rory McIlroy.

Rickie Fowler

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    OK, so maybe Fowler is a household name. It was still impossible to leave him off this list based on his great head-to-head success against Rory McIlroy

    In his first PGA Tour victory, Fowler beat McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff.

    In his only other professional win worldwide, Fowler fired rounds of 63 and 68 on the weekend to win by six strokes. The runner-up on that occasion was, you guessed it, Rory.

    The motocross-riding, Puma-wearing, risk-taking American certainly appears headed for a bright future. Granted, nothing in sports is guaranteed—especially in golf.

    With the tour victory monkey finally off his back, though, Fowler looks to be more of a factor in majors moving forward. Only then will he be considered a true threat to McIlroy's reign over the game of golf.