Rory McIlroy took another step in his already glittering career on Sunday, as he won the 2014 British Open at Hoylake by two shots over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia.
At just 25 years old, he now has three major victories—along with his U.S. Open win in 2011 and PGA Championship victory in 2012—and is just a Masters triumph away from a career Grand Slam.
This puts him in fairly exalted company, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Rory McIlroy joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win 3 of the 4 majors at age 25 or younger.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 20, 2014
For some time now, people have been talking of the young Northern Irishman in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods and speculating as to whether McIlroy could be to his generation of golfers what those two American greats were to theirs.
He seems to be going along the right path, and, as The Sunday Times' David Walsh highlights, he won his third major under pressure from a surging pack, unlike his previous two, which he won at a canter, both by eight-shot margins:
The next step in Rory McIlroy's career had been to win a major while the pounding of the posse beat in his ears. Chapeau to the new champion— David Walsh (@DavidWalshST) July 20, 2014
It's yet another string to his bow, then, and it will serve him well as he looks to accumulate more majors.
But what is next for McIlroy? Can he go on to dominate his sport the way Woods and Nicklaus have done before him? He certainly wants to do so and feels that he has the ability.
He has the game and the temperament to win many more majors and showed over the weekend that he can win on all different types of courses.
Possibly the next question to be asked about McIlroy is whether he will complete the career Grand Slam by winning the Masters at some point, and the answer has to be yes.
He memorably threw away a four-shot lead in the final round at Augusta in 2011, but that can be put down to inexperience. And if he finds himself in a position like that again, he will no doubt not let it slip away.
As Fowler said after McIlroy's victory at Hoylake on Sunday, McIlroy has the game for Augusta, per BBC Sport: "I really don't have any doubt that he'll win there. It definitely fits his game."
While he should not be expected to win the Masters next April, McIlroy should claim at least one victory there within the next five years and join the company of Nicklaus, Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen as winners of a career Grand Slam.
After that hurdle comes the question of how many majors he can win cumulatively and where he will eventually end up in the all-time list.
The answer to that is high but not highest. Only three men have won 10 or more majors: Nicklaus (18), Woods (14) and Walter Hagen (11).
McIlroy can join that auspicious gang, but he is unlikely to overtake Woods, let alone Nicklaus, as it is arguably harder now to win multiple majors.
How many career majors will McIlroy win?
He proved with his win at the British Open—a competition at which he had previously underperformed—that he has the credentials as a serial winner in any conditions.
That will stand him in good stead over the coming years and should lead to multiple major wins, but with so much quality and depth in every field in modern golf, the prospect of Nicklaus or Woods levels of dominance is unlikely.
Furthermore, we all witnessed his form suffer following his first two major wins, a habit that is not conducive to multiple-season victories at the biggest competitions.
Hoylake, then, is a signal of great things to come for McIlroy, who is undoubtedly one of the most talented players of his generation and will win plenty of majors in the coming years.
Surpassing Woods or Nicklaus seems unlikely, but to simply come close—as he undoubtedly will—would put him among the greats of the game.