Rory McIlroy: Is He More Tiger Woods or More Phil Mickelson?

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IApril 10, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 10:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks at a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

When the azaleas are in bloom, it’s a great time to test your knowledge about three favorites for The Masters. How much do you know about Tiger Woods? Everything? How much do you know about Phil Mickelson? A ton? 

Well then, how much do you know about Rory McIlroy. Is he More Like Tiger or More Like Phil? Comparisons between athletes or different generations are tough.

The equipment has changed slightly since Woods and Mickelson debuted. The ball is out of control.  And with Phil’s predilection to tweak whatever piece of equipment he is using to find something that works a smidge better, it’s hard to even categorize what he’s up to.

Aging means accommodation in swing, reduced length off the tee, diminished putting prowess.  Tiger’s got a bum left wheel. Phil’s got psoriatic arthritis.  So it’s hard to compare a 37 or 40-something-year-old to a youngster who is probably a legend in the making. But we will.

Make no mistake, Rory is the next generation golfer, but which current generation player does he resemble the most? There are plenty of points to be made for Tiger and an ample number for Phil, never mind the bragging rights for you if you know whether Rory is more like Tiger or more like Phil. 


Rory and Professional Majors: Like Tiger Woods, he won a major early. In fact, he won two majors early, the US Open at age 22 and the PGA at age 23. He’ll turn 24 in May. Woods won the Masters, his first major when he was 21. His second was the PGA in 1999, just four months before his 24th birthday. Phil’s first major was twelve years after turning pro.

Verdict: Tiger


Rory and Early Victories: Like Phil, he won a professional tournament early. Phil Mickelson won the Nortel Tucson Open in 1991 when he was still in college at Arizona State. He was 20 at the time. He is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event. McIlroy’s first victory came at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic in February, also at age 20. Woods also won his first pro event when he was 20, but that’s not quite as good as winning it as an amateur. 

Verdict: Phil


Rory Dominating: Like Tiger Woods, Rory dominated in his first major, winning the US Open at Congressional by eight shots. Woods dominated in his first major victory, winning The Masters by 12. 

Verdict: Tiger


Rory, Down in Flames: Like Phil, Rory’s already lost a major very publicly. He pull-hooked a drive off the 10th hole at Augusta National in 2011 to lose his lead at The Masters and did not recover from it the rest of the round. Phil pushed a tee shot and then a second shot on the 18th hole of the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot. His third shot plugged in a greenside bunker and he made a double bogey on the hole to hand the title to Geoff Ogilvy who had already finished. However, it did lead to one of Mickelson’s most famous quotes:  “I can’t believe I’m such an idiot,” he said after the loss.  

Verdict: Phil, unfortunately for both of them.


Rory’s Dr Jekyll, Mr. Hyde GolfLike Phil, Rory’s more prone to hot and cold weeks playing golf. Either one of them can turn it around on a dime. They can miss the cut or win the tournament any week. It’s completely unpredictable. Tiger Woods has been known for his consistency. He surpassed Byron Nelson’s in the money streak of 113 and continued to 142.  Ironically, it was at the EDS Byron Nelson Classic in 2005 when Woods finally failed to make a cut.  

Verdict: Phil. Again, not in a the best way. 


Rory as Amateur: Like both Tiger and Phil, Rory had a stellar amateur career.  Rory and Tiger were both winners of the Silver Medal for low amateur score in the Open Championship. Phil won the NCAA and US Amateur and like Tiger Woods won them in the same year.

Verdict: Tie


Rory’s Putting:

Like Phil, Rory’s gotten putting tips that have helped him improve quickly from Dave Stockton. Like Phil, Rory’s putting seems to be a natural flow. Tiger, when he’s on, seems to have a laser stare that carves a track for putts to go into the hole.

Verdict: Phil


Rory’s Logos:

Like Tiger, Rory’s all swooshed.

Verdict: Tiger


Rory’s Financial Security: Like Tiger, Rory’s Nike contract means he’ll never really have to worry about where his next meal is coming from. 

Verdict: Tiger, although Phil’s in pretty good shape, too.


Rory Foot-in-Mouth: Like Phil, he occasionally says or does something he shouldn’t, and then admits it later. Recently Phil commented on taxes and wished he hadn’t. Rory WDed at Honda and then apologized the next week.   

Verdict: Phil.


Rory’s Drives: Like both Tiger and Phil, Rory’s got great distance off the tee. Like both Tiger and Phil, Rory’s drives can sometimes go anywhere. But when he’s on, he’s better than either Tiger or Phil.

Verdict: Tie   


Rory and Autographs: Like Phil, Rory takes time to sign autographs. Tiger is still learning. Arnold Palmer is No.1 in the world at autographs.

Verdict: Phil


Rory and Leg Injuries: Unlike Tiger and Phil, he’s had no leg injuries. Tiger’s surgeries are well-documented and early in Phil’s career, he fractured a leg skiing. Is this next? 

Verdict: Too early to call


Rory and Commercials: Don’t know if you’ve seen Rory in the Santander Bank commercial, but he’s no Tiger bouncing a ball or getting into a Buick and he’s no Phil jumping out from behind a tree.

Verdict: Too early to call


There you have it, is Rory more like Tiger or more like Phil?  As Rory’s friend Graeme McDowell has said in the past, he’s the first Rory McIlroy.