BETHESDA, Md. -- Everybody's been making the comparisons.
But what about the contrasts?
He's already shooting numbers like Tiger Woods did at the individual crowning achievement of his heyday, the 2000 U.S. Open. The way Rory McIlroy sees it, perhaps he needs to start shooting some dirty looks, too.
McIlroy came away from his Masters meltdown in April with the notion that he needs to stop being such a nice guy on the golf course, that a little bit of cockiness might actually help. Less stagger, more swagger.
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"Just try and maybe have an attitude, you know?" McIlroy explained.
Unlike in the scoreboard-tally department, where he's having no trouble broaching El Tigre's records, he still needs to hone that particular knife's serrated edge.
No sooner had the affable Ulsterman arrived at Congressional Country Club on Saturday than did a teenage girl ask for his autograph in the parking lot. Woods probably would have left cleat marks on the girl while walking over her. McIlroy, of course, politely obliged.
In the second round, Wee Mac even fetched one of Phil Mickelson's beaver-pelt-sized divots and tossed it back to Lefty's caddie, Jim Mackay. Even his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, is a mild-mannered guy. Yeah, McIlroy is evil incarnate.
The intimidation deal clearly needs work. Other than in purely performance-related matters, because McIlroy is an incomprehensible, record-setting, 14-under par after three rounds.
"He's quite a bashful lad," his manager, Chubby Chandler, said. "When he was young, he used to be a little cocky. But he hasn't been like that out here.
"Maybe that needs to come back 'round a little bit."
At this point, we're not sure it does. McIlroy, unlike the recently deposed world No. 1, is killing them softly this week at Congressional. With kid gloves, and that's not a pun relating to the fact that he's barely above drinking age.
It's pretty easy to see where McIlroy gets his charm and manners. His father, Gerry, is here this week, a man who once worked three jobs to find the extra money needed to fund Rory's burgeoning amateur career. Earlier this week, I pulled Gerry away from his lunch to talk about his son, and he left his plate of grub on the clubhouse table in order to oblige.
The golf world needs Rory to play like Tiger, not act like him. The rest will take care of itself.
"If he won by a few here, he might have an aura," Chandler said. "He's only won two tournaments. If he wins a few more, he might just get that aura."
If he wins the Toughest Tournament on Earth, he should have a positively plutonium glow. The kid is doing things to the record book that have not been done in the 111-year history of the event. McIlroy started the third round with a six-shot lead, and was paired with an ex-Marine, South Korea's Y.E. Yang, one of the grittiest guys in golf.
Then he gave Yang, and the rest of the field, a quick bayonet through the heart. At one point, he was 14 under, two shots lower relative to par than any other player had ever climbed, and leading by nine. Like with Woods' runaway win at the 2000 Open, analysts were spewing superlatives so often they began to sound like platitudes. He set a new 54-hole scoring record at 199, breaking Jim Furyk's record by one, set in 2003.
Rory bounced along, serenaded on several holes by fans who have quickly come to embrace him as a star-in-the-making. Of course, his brethren knew this would happen sooner or later. Woods himself anointed McIlroy as a future No. 1 in the spring of 2010.
Steve Stricker, who at age 44 has seen more than a few of the big boys do battle over the years, looked up at a scoreboard and said, "It's a different game.
"He's got a lot of talent and he's only 22," said Stricker, who won two weeks ago in Ohio. "He's got the world in front of him really. His game looks flawless. His swing looks great. I think it looks just as good as when Tiger was in his prime and swinging at it at his best.
"You just don't see any flaws."
Imagine what happens when McIlroy gets mean. Jason Day, part of a pack of players tied for third at 5 under, has known the Northern Irishman since they were in their early teens.
"He's just got so much game, it's unbelievable how much talent he has at 22," said Day, 23. "He's very, very mature for his age. There's not enough nice things to say about him."
What, more effusive praise? Looks like McIlroy needs to start breaking clubs, slamming trunk lids and forgetting to tip the locker-room attendants. His image isn’t exactly taking a beating here.
The only thing that could crush the kid at this point would be history of an entirely different meaning. He leads Yang by eight heading into the final round and the outcome is all but secured. The largest blown lead in Grand Slam annals came at the 1996 Masters, when Greg Norman blew a six-stroke margin on Sunday. McIlroy's worst score this week is a 3-under 68.
"The way he's playing out there, it's almost Tiger-esque," Day said.
Except for the good grades in deportment, of course.
"To have the lead that he has in U.S. Open is pretty ridiculous, and at such a young age," Day said. "Obviously the next generation is starting to kick up now, and he's the guy that's leading it."
With substance, style and class, no less.