How Does Rory McIlroy's 2012 Season Stack Up Against Tiger Woods' Best Years?

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How Does Rory McIlroy's 2012 Season Stack Up Against Tiger Woods' Best Years?
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Rory McIlroy holding the final trophy of 2012.

We marvel at the spectacular season just completed by golf’s most recent and most legitimate phenom, Rory McIlroy: Six victories—four on the PGA Tour—and $8,047,952 in earnings in the United States. Two victories on the European Tour gave him a grand total of earnings (not including bonus pool prize money) of $10,947,402.

You might sit back and shake your head in amazement at what the 23-year-old accomplished until you do a bit a research.

As good as his season was in terms of wins, Tiger Woods matched that total in 2005 and exceeded it in 2000, 2006, 2007 and 2009. As far as money is concerned, McIlroy raking in $10 million around the world is impressive, but Woods earned $10 million three different years (and $9 million another) on the PGA Tour alone.

Having cited those numbers, that is no way intended to diminish what McIlroy did in 2012. The young Northern Irishman caught the golf world’s attention last year by running away with the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. This year he stated in as affirmative a tone as possible that he is the man and took control of the game coming down the stretch of the season.

Just like it was when Woods began his decade of dominance in 2000, there’s a distinct feeling that the very best of McIlroy is yet to come. Will he be able to the guy everybody chases for the next decade? That will be the dominant storyline as the years go by.

McIlroy has played in 54 PGA Tour events and won six times. That’s a pretty good ratio, wouldn’t you say? He’s won five times in 115 European Tour starts, which isn’t all that bad either.

Hong Wu/Getty Images
The past, Tiger Woods and the future, Rory McIlroy.

By comparison, however, Woods won 59 times from 2000 through 2010. Woods plays a much more limited schedule on the European Tour, having only played in the Open Championship and a trip or two to Dubai for a big-money appearance fee.

It all adds up to this: Rory McIlroy is the straw that stirs golf’s drink. He’s the face of the future of the game and it would be shocking for him to not go on a roll like Woods did.

The Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner put together an interesting piece earlier this week, detailing just how lucrative McIlroy’s 2012 was and whether it might be the best ever in that category. The numbers there back up my assertion that while McIlroy was the shining star in 2012, Woods put together the best years known to man back in early 2000s.

The Golf Channel piece breaks down the best years in history, with and without the bonus pool money offered on the European Tour and FedEx Cup money. Perhaps most shocking in those numbers was the category of most money earned on the world money list from all official tours.

Ten million seems like ought to be on the short list, right? Well, it ranks sixth-best in the last 10 years. Woods has four better seasons and Vijay Singh has the other.

McIlroy is hardly concerned with any of those numbers, they are more the enjoyment and discussion of folks like us. He knows he had a good season and was thrilled to be able to finish it off by making birdies on the last five holes to win the Dubai World Championship last weekend.

"I just wanted to finish the season the way I thought I deserved to finish the season," McIlroy was quoted in USA Today after making his final birdie and raising his arms in the air in celebration. "You know, I played so well throughout the year and I didn't want to just let it tail off, sort of, timidly. I wanted to come here and finish in style."

It was in some ways a perfect season for McIlroy: six wins, a winning Ryder Cup performance, and winning the money title on both tours. But what’s scary for the rest of the best players in the world is that McIlroy came to a very important realization this year. He said the following in a story in The Guardian following the win in Dubai.

"The big difference this year has been that when I haven't been at my best, I have still competed and won tournaments," said McIlroy. "That's something I said I wanted to get better at. Before this year, I felt my wins came when I just played great golf and nobody could get near me. Being able to win when not at your best is what Tiger has done for so many years. That's why he has won so many tournaments. I'm definitely not at that level yet, but I'm learning how to do it."

I remember Woods saying the same thing when his charge was about to begin.

Just sayin’.

As Yogi Berra was fond of saying, the kid’s future is ahead of him.

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