Rory McIlroy may have completed one of the greatest major championship performances in golf history yesterday, but the overwhelming praise for "this kid" is starting to take on epic, and curious, proportions.
Personally, I don't think McIlroy's win yesterday was quite as impressive as Tiger Woods' effort at Pebble Beach in 2000--the course wasn't nearly as challenging, unlike Tiger he wasn't the only man to break par (far from it), and Woods won by an incredible 15 strokes, to McIlroy's eight-shot triumph.
Still, it was a phenomenal four days of ball striking and excellent putting. And, when you toss in his effort at Augusta National in April and the Top Three finishes at the PGA and British Open last year, McIlroy deserves to be the front runner for all the accolades right now: PGA Player of the Year, World Number One, favorite at every event he attends, etc. etc. etc.
But I can't help but look at the praise he's receiving across the nation from sports writers and TV broadcasters and think it's a little bit excessive. And not just because he's a 22-year-old; After all Tiger, Jack, and Bobby Jones were all phenoms who certainly lived up to their billing.
Had McIlroy shot those four consecutive US Open rounds at any time in history with or without Tiger Woods in the field, it would have been historic and truly special. But it's downright myopic to look at last week and not take into consideration Tiger Woods current plight.
Without Woods the US Open (and NBC/ESPN) needed a star. McIlroy was a godsend. And given his status as a relatively "new" face who was trying to overcome the "tragedy" at Augusta, he was even more appealing.
But did you notice how often people talked about how "likable" a kid he was and how he "did everything right" after the Masters?
I think that was a not so subtle, though fairly inadvertent, jab at Tiger Woods. (During the NBC broadcast Johnny Miller said, after mentioning Woods win in 2000, that he thought McIlroy would win "the right way"? He quickly noted that he wasn't taking disparaging Woods, but you be the judge. In his book, I Call The Shots, Miller later said "The best US Open performance of all time was by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000. The worst performance at a US Open was also provided by Woods that same year" hinting at Tiger's swearing binge in Round Two.)
Woods marital scandal rightfully so cost him dearly with the public, in terms of likability and being a good "ambassador" for the game. So I can appreciate people wanting to find the next man to step up and carry the flag for the "good guys" in golf.
But I think the world has jumped the gun a bit by propping up McIlroy as the "face" of Golf, not because he doesn't have integrity or character--I'm sure he does and that oft-mentioned trip to Haiti that is very honorable. But let's also be careful to separate the character/personality from overall impact on the course.
For basically a decade-plus the world was waiting for someone to stand up to Tiger and be his true rival. That was the greatest complaint about the game for a long time, that more often than not everyone was content to fight for second place.
Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, and a few others were up to the challenge occasionally, but not regularly. Now in McIlroy there seems to be a player capable of doing that for years to come--he is 13 years younger--and people are charging up the bandwagon.
That's understandable, but not terribly fair to either man. In terms of pure golf achievements, Tiger's "fall from grace" should have no bearing on what he achieved from 1997-2008....and what he will achieve in the future, which will include multiple major titles, I believe.
And from McIlroy's perspective, he'll never be able to beat Woods in his prime--that was a decade ago.
Furthermore, it keeps McIlroy from creating his own legacy, one apart from Woods.
Ask LeBron James how it feels right now trying to be Michael Jordan's heir apparent.