Ross: McIlroy urges caution in comparisons
Rory McIlroy wore a red shirt and dominated the final round, just like you-know-who used to. But, says Helen Ross, McIlroy is the first to urge caution to those making comparisons.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Rory McIlroy wouldn't have worn red on Sunday if he had been paired with "him." But he wasn't so McIlroy did, and the young Northern Irishman ended up doing a pretty darn good impression of one Tiger Woods.
McIlroy was positively flawless as he lapped the field at the Ocean Course, making an emphatic birdie on the 18th hole and winning the 94th PGA Championship by a record eight strokes. His first major came by the same margin at Congressional in 2011 and with the Wanamaker Trophy to go with that U.S. Open title, McIlroy is already halfway to the career Grand Slam.
And he is just 23 years old, some four months and seven days younger than Woods was when he won his second major at the 1999 PGA Championship. Woods was the 10-year-old McIlroy's idol back then, and now the newly-minted, baby-faced PGA champ will be inspiring kids just like he was back then.
Granted, McIlroy has a ways to go to catch Woods, who has 12 more majors and 70 more PGA TOUR titles on his resume. But on this signature Sunday on a toney island just off the South Carolina coast the comparisons have begun in earnest, even if McIlroy was quick to urge caution.
"I don't know (what to make of the comparisons)," he said. "I mean, I've won my second major at the same age. But he went on that incredible run like 2000, 2001, 2002 and won so many. 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 can't ask for any more.
"I just want to keep working hard, keep practicing and hopefully there's a few more of these in my closet when my career finishes."
During his pre-tournament interview on Wednesday McIlroy had said he'd give his season, one that included a win at The Honda Classic and a playoff loss in Charlotte, nothing better than a solid B. On Sunday, though, his GPA was off the charts as that grade was revised to an A-plus.
"I think I heard Tiger say, you can have a good season, but to make a good season a great season, you need a major championship," McIlroy said. "Now I've had two great seasons in a row -- no matter what happens from here on in. Hopefully I can play some great golf from now until the end of the year and get myself ready for another great season next year, too."
There's a lot at stake over the next five months for the gracious and gregarious pro who regained the No. 1 spot in the world on Sunday and looks ready to stay there for a while. McIlroy ranks second to Woods by a mere 177 FedExCup points with the Playoffs starting in just two weeks at another major venue in Bethpage Black. He's second on the money list, as well.
McIlroy also leads the European Tour's Race to Dubai, and the possibility of duplicating Luke Donald's money list double of 2011 now looms as a definite possiblity. Oh, and don't forget about the Ryder Cup which will be played in Chicago the week after the FedExCup champion is crowned.
But for now, let's savor Sunday's accomplishment. McIlroy played 27 holes with the lead and never cracked, not even when the hard-charging Ian Poulter birdied his first five holes or when he pulled within two again with consecutive birdie at Nos. 11 and 12. McIlroy set a target of 13 under and did one better, and no one was catching him.
With the victory, McIlroy silenced his critics, the ones he said were "pushing the panic button" and questioning everything from his work ethic to his love life when he missed three cuts in four starts back in May and June. Turns out, no one is harder on McIlroy than he is on himself, and he didn't like going home early in his U.S. Open title defense or at THE PLAYERS and Memorial, as well.
"I don't think I could have answered it in any better way," McIlroy said. "And yeah, to be honest, it did motivate me. I did want to go out there and prove a few people wrong. That's what I did. It took me all of four weeks to get my game back in shape and get out of my mini=slump, and this is the result."
In retrospect, Woods says, McIlroy's small setback may have been a blessing in disguise. The man many regard as the greatest of all time has answered his own critics in ending a 30-month victory drought with three this year, so he knows whereof he speaks.
"We all know the talent he has," said Woods, who held a share of the lead entering the weekend but didn't break par over the final two rounds."He went through a little spell this year, and I think that was good for him. We all go through those spells in our careers, and you know, he's got all the talent in the world to do what he's doing. And this is the way that Rory can play. When he gets it going, it's pretty impressive to watch."
Padraig Harrington, who knows a thing or two about winning major championships, feels this second victory will free McIlroy up to realize the lofty expectations that have attended his meteoric rise.
"If he didn't win the majors, you know, it would have been an underachievement or a letdown or whatever," Harrington said. "So the pressure was always on him in that sense. He's only doing what he was destined to do and delivering on that.
"As he saw last year from winning, he won the U.S. Open last year and he has not had an easy ride of it since then. It brings a lot of pressure with it. I think winning his second major is going to make things a lot easier for him. I think he'll be a better player for winning this time around."
Harrington said he still expects the 36-year-old Woods to eclipse Jack Nicklaus' major haul of 18. But he thinks McIlroy has the ability to do the same -- and plenty of time to make it happen.
"Rory's proving that when he plays well, he plays like Tiger played well," Harrington said simply.
And that's saying a lot, even if McIlroy is too humble to say the same.