CHARLESTON, South Carolina, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The superlatives are once again being heaped upon Rory McIlroy after the Northern Irishman, for the second time in 15 months, blew away the world’s best to win his second major crown.
While Tiger Woods failed to add to his career haul of 14 major titles, McIlroy underlined his burgeoning status as the game’s most exciting young talent as he romped to victory by a record eight shots in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
Oozing confidence all week, the 23-year-old from Holywood in Northern Ireland reminded golf fans across the globe, as well as his peers, that he is both a man of the people and a player of rare skill.
Ever humble with a down-to-earth, almost boyish, approach when dealing with spectators, the media and his rivals on tour, McIlroy is now seen by many as the ‘Tiger’ of the future.
Of course, he and Woods are very different characters.
The Northern Irishman is a perpetually smiling golfer who strides the fairways with a swagger and his shoulders back, always completely at home in his environment.
In stark contrast, American Woods has always competed in a cocoon of concentration, never really engaging with fans as he goes about his business with a brooding, steely focus.
Already the comparisons are flying but McIlroy’s compatriot, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, believes this is unfair.
““It’s tough to say that Rory is a Tiger Woods-type player,” McDowell said after McIlroy stormed to victory at Kiawah Island on Sunday with a closing six-under-par 66 on the longest layout to stage a major championship.
““Tiger Woods is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ type player, and Rory McIlroy is at least a ‘once-in-a-decade’ type player. ”He’s that good. I’ve been saying it for years how good he is.
“He showed us at Congressional how good he is, by getting to No. 1 in the world this year at the Honda Classic, how good he is, and here we go again.”
McIlroy clinched his maiden major title by a staggering eight shots in last year’s U.S. Open at Congressional and held off a last-day charge by Woods to become world number one for the first time with a two-shot victory at the Honda Classic in March.
“”He’s going to be the player that kids look up to, that kids measure their own ‘wannabe’ games by,“ said McDowell. ”“Ten years ago it was Tiger Woods.
““It still is Tiger Woods to a certain extent, but now we’ve got superstars like Rory McIlroy for kids to be looking at with the ‘double hip snap’ or whatever the hell he calls it. He’s great for the game and absolute breath of fresh air.”
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III felt that McIlroy, like Woods, shone best under the biggest spotlight with the ability to spread-eagle fields.
”“When he gets ahead, he’s pretty amazing. I think that’s the most incredible thing about Rory,“ Love told reporters on Monday. ”“You can tell he’s caged up and ready to go and ready to bust loose, and he certainly timed it right.
““He seems to have that ability that when it’s a big tournament, he’s right there just waiting to break loose. A lot like Tiger; the bigger the stage, the better he plays.”
Though McIlroy has now won two major titles at a younger age than Woods, he was reluctant to bracket himself with arguably the greatest player of all time.
”“He (Woods) went on that incredible run from 2000 to 2002 and won so many,“ said McIlroy. “”I’d love to sit up here and tell you that I‘m going to do the same thing but I just don’t know.
““It’s been great to win my first major last year and to back that up with another one this year. I just want to keep working hard, keep practising and hopefully there’s a few more of these in my closet when my career finishes.”
So far, so good, however, for McIlroy who is already distancing himself from his peers in scintillating fashion.
With his runaway victory at the PGA Championship, he became the youngest player to win two major titles since the-then 23-year-old Seve Ballesteros clinched the 1980 Masters.
He also eclipsed golfing great Jack Nicklaus with his victory margin at Kiawah Island, Nicklaus having set the tournament’s previous best with a seven-stroke win in 1980.
McIlroy supplied early evidence of his golfing skills when he hit a 40-yard drive at the age of two and for Irishman Padraig Harrington the ‘Tiger’ comparisons are obvious.
”“He’s lapped the field twice now,“ triple major winner Harrington said of McIlroy’s runaway major victories. ”“That’s two tournaments he’s lapped the field.
““The only person that’s ever done that in majors in my time has been Tiger. Rory’s done it twice now. I don’t know how many times Tiger did it. That’s quite impressive, isn’t it?” (Editing by Frank Pingue)