CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The little boy, perhaps 7 years old, was hiked atop his dad's shoulders, a crimson Kool-Aid mustache visible from yards away, as they walked behind the 18th green at the Quail Hollow Championship, looking for a place to watch the proceedings.
His father was patiently explaining that the kid approaching the green from the fairway was all of 20. The youngster laughed, as kids are wont to do, and said a mouthful.
|Rory McIlroy enjoys the stroll on the final green as the gallery shows its appreciation. (Getty Images)|
Kids don't just say the darndest things. They do 'em, too.
On a day that heralded the future of the sport around the world, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy made Quail Hollow look like romper room Sunday with a blistering 10-under 62, running away with his first title on the PGA Tour and whipping a field that included the biggest names in the game.
With multiple major champions Phil Mickelson and Angel Cabrera breathing down his neck, McIlroy not only held them off, he blew them away with a wunderkind display, proving that the considerable reputation he earned as a rising star in Europe knows no international boundary.
Half a world away, 18-year-old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa shot a 12-under 58 to win on the Japan Tour, coming from six shots back. McIlroy, who turns 21 on Tuesday, began Sunday four shots behind.
Ladies and gents, and especially boys and girls, the future is officially now.
"I'm just trying to keep up with him," McIlroy cracked. "He's a great player, and obviously with myself winning today as well, it looks good for the future."
If you weren't in the room and didn't hear the excitement and inflection of his voice, that statement might sound a trace egotistical. Far from it. McIlroy has every reason to have a head the size of an Easter Island icon, but if he did, then players like Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington would not have waited around for him to finish on Sunday.
It was a storybook finish, sorta like the corny things you might read in a bedtime story to a kid a few years younger. McIlroy this week was destined for his third consecutive missed cut when he eagled his 16th hole Friday to make it on the number, which he called the biggest shot of the entire season. All he did on the weekend was make one of the toughest courses on tour look like a flipping video game.
He finished 16 under for the weekend, obliterating the previous weekend low in Charlotte by a ridiculous seven strokes. At one stretch Sunday, he played nine holes in eight under and players like Mickelson, Cabrera, Jim Furyk, Harrington and playing partner Anthony Kim were flat dusted.
|Quail Hollow links|
Notes: Mickelson falls short
Caught up in the moment, Kim, all of 24 himself, gave McIlroy a whistling low-five slap when the former ran in a 43-footer for birdie on the 18th hole. McIlroy had tomahawked a 7-iron from 202 yards onto the green and rolled in the putt as an exclamation point, beating Lefty by four shots.
"It was unbelievable, it was impressive," Kim said. "He made no mistakes. That kid has obviously got a pretty bright future."
His present doesn't suck, either, which is a nice change from, say, a week or so ago. McIlroy was roundly second-guessed when he elected to join the PGA Tour this year, and even his management group advised him to make his bones in Europe before he began spreading himself across two continents. The U.S. tour wasn't going anywhere, after all, but McIlroy had been outplayed by a handful of other rookies to date this year.
His coming-out party came right after he had a going-home sortie. McIlroy, who has battled a strained back all season after climbing as high as seventh in the world rankings, was so disgruntled about his game after missing the cut at the Masters, he went back to Northern Ireland and began to rethink whether he should have joined the PGA Tour so early in his career. For good reason, really.
He hadn't finished better than 17th in the States all year, and that was in a match-play event with 64 players. He had finished above par in nine of his last 10 rounds heading into the weekend in Charlotte, and the other was a level-par 72 on Thursday.
"I had never felt expectation up until this year," he said. He was considering skipping the Charlotte stop altogether.
"That would have been a good idea," he laughed.
Instead, he became the youngest player to win on tour since Tiger Woods won at Disney World as a 20-year-old in 1996. McIlroy's final round matched the lowest score in relation to par by a PGA Tour winner since Ryan Palmer shot 62 to win at Disney in 2004. He became the first player in four years to win the tournament after making the cut on the number. We could go on with the micro view, but frankly, the macro picture is more exciting.
Now folks can appreciate why Mark O'Meara said that McIlroy was a more polished player as a teen than Woods, or that Bernhard Langer said the kid possessed the purest swing he'd ever seen. The hosannas now are going to come fast and furious.
"He's got all the shots, he's got the game of a veteran and he's a class act," Mickelson said. "He's fun to be around. You can't help but pull for him. A 62 is one of the best rounds I have seen in a long, long time."
The score was as low as his ceiling is high, really.
"It's a big deal for him to come over here and start winning here," Harrington said as McIlroy was torching the back nine. "He wasn't contending, wasn't winning, and if he can get across the line it makes it a lot easier for him going forward, and I think it could make a big difference to his career.
"It's a lot of pressure on him, a lot of focus on the home, and it's putting him under enormous pressure to deliver, and obviously every week that he doesn't deliver, it's getting on him. But you know, if he can win here, it eases it all off."
In fact, it turned it all around. Network analyst David Feherty, a native of Northern Ireland who got his American citizenship two months ago, was so caught up in his countryman's performance that he joked he'd reverted back to full-blown Ulsterman.
"To play like that, with the lead, at his age, stunning," Feherty said. "I tried to be as impartial as I could, but I was jumping up and down like a leprechaun."
When Feherty finally got to talk with McIlroy, he dropped a down-home phrase on him: "You're some bit of stuff."
"Whatever 'stuff' is," Feherty laughed. "You're supposed to soil yourself on the last three here, especially at 20. At that age, I was thinking, 'How am I going to lose this?' He was taking it further and further. And that does remind you of somebody."
That's a Woods reference, in case you hadn't guessed.
J.P. Fitzgerald, who has caddied for Ernie Els, Westwood and Paul McGinley over the years before signing on with McIlroy two years ago, said he hoped people don't get too carried away.
"I like to play it down. I don't get into the hype and all that," Fitzgerald said. "Tiger Woods is the greatest player I have ever seen, so the comparisons to him are totally unfair. Tiger Woods winning the British Open by eight shots, the U.S. Open by 15, I mean, I betcha they start comparing Rory now, which is totally unfair."
Well, I don't know about totally.
"He'll be a big star," Feherty gushed, "for as long as he wants."