Blog Entry

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Posted on: March 6, 2012 6:51 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:35 am
Rory McIlroy tees off during his practice round on Tuesday in Miami, Fla. (Getty)

By Steve Elling

DORAL, Fla. -- Lee Westwood ran across Luke Donald on the practice green on Tuesday, and given what they've recently had in common, the pair began a comical exchange about the state of affairs at the top of the game.

Westwood, never one to miss a chance at a good joke, turned to Donald, a fellow Englishman and said. "Good morning, No. 2."

Donald, unseated from the top spot in the world rankings on Sunday by Rory McIlroy, after Donald had had displaced Westwood from the same perch 40 weeks earlier, looked at Westwood and nodded.

"Yeah, it's sort of a bit of a relief," Donald told Westy. "There's only one way to go when you're No. 1. At least there's more than one way to go at No. 2."

At which point, Westwood's quick-quipping caddie, Billy Foster, interjected, "Yeah, No. 5."

Cool as McIlroy is playing it at the moment, it could be a long time before the 22-year-old gets displaced, regardless of the fact that Donald and Westwood can reclaim the top spot with a victory this week at the Cadillac Championship at Doral Golf Resort & Spa.

Don’t much like their chances, frankly.

Fresh off a two-day trip to the Big Apple to watch his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, play an exhibition at Madison Square Garden, McIlroy wheeled into Doral late Tuesday afternoon and proved fairly conclusively that he is equipped with all the tools to be the No. 1 -- including the precious gift of poise.

Even after a whirlwind 48-hour span since he became the second-youngest player to reach the top of the world ranking, McIlroy remains as collected as when Tiger Woods threw a career-best closing 62 at him Sunday at the Honda Classic.

He arrived at Doral utterly unruffled, nonplussed and rifling off all the proper missives needed. After years of enduring the rather grumpy sort who occupied the same throne for most of the past decade, in his first public appearance since climbing to No. 1, McIlroy was an impressive study in confidence, self-deprecation, charm and insightful analysis.

That's the public-relations Grand Slam, right there. We're all getting to know the Ulsterman, bit by bit, and the puzzle pieces are impressive. The Northern Irishman has always been open and honest, and he didn’t waste a minute reaffirming that, to the delight of anybody who will read the comments about his career arc, Woods, or the perceived mantel of being a marked man.

For instance, McIlroy didn’t at all mind admitting that having Woods throw everything he had at him at the Honda made it all the better. Well, sort of.

"To be honest, I was probably thinking to myself, 'Could it not have been anyone else?'" he said, drawing huge laughs.

He not only survived, but thrived. If it was the passing of the generational torch, Woods tried to burn down Rory's house first.

"I can sit here and lie and say that it didn't feel better to have Tiger post a score and to be able to play solid," McIlroy said of this two-stroke win. "It maybe made it feel a little sweeter than if it had of been someone else."

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Whoever wrote, "heavy lies the crown," missed the boat with this guy. McIlroy shrugged off the presumed pressure that being the top man on the totem pole carries and said it's all a matter of individual taste and style.

"It depends what type of mind you have and if you thrive in the spotlight, if you welcome it," he said. "I feel like I do thrive in the spotlight, and I like the attention. Not that I'm an attention-seeker, but you're doing something right when you're in the spotlight." 

A modern kid in a highly electronic world, McIlroy is clearly wired the right way. Monday night, Wozniacki waved him onto the court at MSG and he traded a few lobbed volleys with her equally famous exhibition opponent that night, former Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova. A shrinking violet, he isn’t and McIlroy "won" the point, to the delight of the crowd.

Think about it: Everybody's different, but can you envision Woods ever putting himself in a similarly spontaneous situation before thousands of fans and a live TV audience, where he could have looked like a complete clown? Of the foursome that has occupied the No. 1 perch since Woods cavated the throne, McIlroy not only seems best-suited for the long haul, both because of his skillset and age, but the demands of celebrity,

"I'd love to keep myself here for a while," he said. "I know that it's inevitable that I'll lose [the ranking] at some point, that's for sure. I just hope that it's a little further away.

"I don't feel like I'm under any pressure to keep the No. 1, because that's not what I play golf for. It's about winning tournaments, and if I win tournaments, the ranking will take care of itself."

The shock and awe of the achievement are not likely to rattle him, given the company he keeps. He received congratulatory messages from the manager of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, and the team's star player, Wayne Rooney. Greg Norman checked in, too, just like dozens of others.

They all have hailed the new boy king. Unlike the reign of another No. 1, who shall remain both obvious and nameless, we are not expecting an era of tyranny and oppression from McIlroy, who is anything but suspicious, paranoid or defensive. Indeed, his manner is as refreshing as the Atlantic breezes that buffet the Doral facility.

As his father, Gerry, said last year when McIlroy elected to rejoin the PGA Tour for 2012 against the counsel of his management, "He's his own man."

That's becoming evermore evident, which is remarkable given his age and fast-track climb to top billing. He isn't surrounded by an army of handlers. His swing coach is in Ireland. His caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, eschews the limelight. Nothing seems out of proportion. It's the way McIlroy wants it.

He received mountains of unsolicited feedback after blowing the 54-hole lead at the Masters last spring at age 21, and listened to precious little of it, really.

"I mean, you take it on board; the stuff that you might not think is relevant, you just sort of let it go," he said. "Even if you pick up one or two things that some people might say, you hold on to that and maybe try to put it in practice. 

"Most of the time, I try to figure things out on my own. I think that's the best way to do it."

Judging of his annihilation of the U.S. Open record book two months later, the evidence suggests he's right. The only player to reach world No. 1 quicker was Woods, who climbed the ladder at age 21. Though the comparisons seem premature, if not unfair, plenty of newshole has already been expended comparing the early trajectory of McIlroy to that of the 14-time major winner.

McIlroy handled that ticking time bomb like an adroit professional, too.

"I'm going to let other people make the comparisons," he said. "I've never said that I want to be the next anyone. I just want to be the first Rory McIlroy and however good that turns out to be, then I'll try my best to win tournaments and to win majors and to be best player in the world.

"But it's never like I set out to win 18 majors like Tiger has. I've always just wanted to win golf tournaments, ultimately to win majors, and to be No. 1 in the world. I've been lucky enough to win a major and get to the No. 1 position, but there's still a long road ahead and I feel like I can accomplish a lot more."

You'd have to be catatonic to bet against it. As none other than Jack Nicklaus pointed out, with a major already to his credit, McIlroy is a step ahead of most players. Moreover, McIlroy has already seriously contended at all four majors over his brief pro career.
"I've never let anyone tell me that I was too young to do this or too young to do that," he said. "I felt at some times last year, a lot of things happened to me so quickly in such a short space of time, and it didn't matter if I was 22 or 32.

"I feel like I've handled everything pretty well. I've definitely matured a lot and I've learned a lot in the last couple of years. So everything that's happened to me has been hugely positive and you know, it's nice to be sitting here at 22 and have the No. 1 ranking and to have won a major."

Introspective, easygoing and humble? Hold on, because this could be quite a ride.

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Since: Jan 19, 2009
Posted on: March 8, 2012 4:03 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

When Tiger Woods was a young boy he didn't say, " I want to win more tournaments than Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus."  He had ONE goal, and he even wrote it down and posted it on his bedroom wall.  He wanted to win more MAJORS than Jack Nicklaus.

When Rory McIlroy was asked as a child what he wanted to do he said, "I want to be the best golfer in the world and win MAJORS."  

The Majors are how the greats are measured, like it or not.  Tiger still has work to do, even if his fans would like to dellsionally think otherwise. 

Since: Jan 19, 2009
Posted on: March 8, 2012 2:34 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

@PhD87:  Go back and read my posts again and again and see if you can comprehend the level of play in the top tournaments we are talking about.  No one gives two craps about any other tournaments in golf, they are fillers.  The majors are it, for both the fans and the players alike.  Go ahead and ask any player or analyst or any major authority on golf.  They are not going to say that just winning any old tournament is the be all end all of greatness.  They are going to tell you that the MAJORS are the GREATEST tests of golf on the GREATEST courses against the GREATEST fields.   Again, an ignorant Tiger only perspective b/c you didn't care before Tiger, too bad for you.

And I conceded that Tiger did more for the game than ANY other, but he wasn't the greatest.  However he still has a shot to be the greatest, I admit that. He probably has 10 more years with realistic chances and even another ten beyond that with an outside shot to win if he stays healthy.

Since: Sep 2, 2008
Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:23 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

I'm  not a Woods fan I am a fan of golf. I watched golf when soccer(football) had better ratings in the US. I watched Jose Maria,I watched Duval, I watched Jack in his twilight. Tiger does not only define golf he defines professional sports. Rory,Luke and any other Euro will never come close to this man. Tiger has not only added golf fans today, he has added fans 20 years from now. Forgive me for being arrogant but no other athlete world wide has grown his sport more than Mr. Woods. Golf is what its is not because of an Irishman,not because of an Aussie or a South Afircan, It's because of an Black American....which is a mircle in itself. Rory will not win more majors then our 2nd best golfer of this era.....Phil Mickelson.....USA.....USA! 

Since: Sep 2, 2008
Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:08 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

I'm not a huge Tiger fan but I do know this....Tigerr will eat this kids lunch once he get's his head striaght. Phil is my guy but Tiger is a different animal(no pun). American athletes have a different mind set and that is to destroy their opponents. Give it some time and Rory will be at best number 2

Since: Jun 30, 2009
Posted on: March 8, 2012 11:37 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time


I think Tiger's record in majors stacks up pretty well aginst Jack's especially if you factor in the competition level in today's game.  It was definitely easier in Jack's day to finish Top 5 or Top 10, because the quality of the fields just wasn't as high as it is today.  Even discounting that, admittedly subjective, opinion, here's a look at each player's first 56 majors (which happens to be Tiger's total as a professional)

Nicklaus: 14 wins, 37 Top 5's, 42 Top 10's, 1 Missed Cut
Woods: 14 wins, 29 Top 5's, 35 Top 10's, 3 Missed Cuts

Not a lot of difference really.

Since: Jun 30, 2009
Posted on: March 8, 2012 11:13 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Lanny H said "They insist on comparing Rory not to Jack, but to Tiger Woods.  Why?"

Why would anyone compare a 22-year old with one major to Jack Nicklaus?

The media compares Rory to Tiger because, like it or not, Woods is the greatest active golfer, and, at 36 is still the most likely threat to McIroy's reign as the world's #1 golfer over the next 4 or 5 years.

I also think, Lanny H, you misunderstand a Tiger fan's description of Tiger Woods being "back".  No one expects him to ever be the golfer he was in 2000-2002, just like Jack, although still successful past the age of 35, wasn't the same golfer he was when he was in his mid-twenties and early thirties.

What Tiger fans like me (a golf fan for over 40 years and a big fan of Jack Nicklaus as a kid) mean is that Woods will be "back" winning tournaments, winning majors and perhaps, contending for the #1 ranking again.

No one expects Tiger 2001 - it's likely no one will ever reach that level again.

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: March 8, 2012 9:53 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Rory is the Story.

Look, I understand where you Woods fans are coming from.  You "only watch golf when Tiger plays."  You think he is the be-all end-all of golf.  I fully understand that.  You didn't watch golf before Tiger Woods was on the tour, and you won't watch after.  You think he's the greatest of all time.  That's cool, because "greatest of all time" in a sport like golf could not be more meaningless.  Everybody is going to have their personal, subjective favorites.

But what you have to understand is that, to most golf fans -- true golf fans, not Tiger Woods cult of celebrity fans -- Tiger Woods is not even in the conversation (meaningless though it may be).  He was visited in private for "medical treatment" by unlicensed doctor and convicted felon (for distributing PEDs) Dr. Anthony Galea.  He's a non-entity, just like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and A-Rod.

Since: Mar 7, 2012
Posted on: March 8, 2012 8:06 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

JAB, it's very easy to use only the statistics that support your point. THAT is a pretty ignorant.
I can be ignorant too: What about Tiger winning 24 times before the age of 25 and Jack only 12? What about Tiger winning 46 times between 20-29 and Jack only 30? And the 71 wins by Tiger at 36 compared to Jack's 61 at the same age?
If you believe that having a lot of top five or ten in Majors is the undisputable evidence that a golfer is the greatest ever, fine. But to me, it seems like you've done a pretty lazy homework yourself.

Since: Jan 19, 2009
Posted on: March 8, 2012 7:42 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Perhaps even more amazing and telling is that NOT INCLUDING Jack's 18 Majors, he had 55 OTHER top tens in MAJORS!

Including 18 SECONDS in majors, and 30 something top fives as well!

Tiger isnt even close on those lists. 

During the entire decade of the 1970's Jack Nicklaus won 8 Majors and only finished outside the top ten FIVE times, that's 40 majors, 8 wins with 35 top tens!!  No one will ever beat that! And his record in the 60's was also very very impressive!

So Tiger lovers, please save your BS until afer you've done a little homework.  And again this is the reason I do not hate Tiger and I do very much respect his golf game as he is the SECOND greatest golfer of all time for now.  I just dislike the ignorance of many of his fans.  

Since: Jan 19, 2009
Posted on: March 8, 2012 7:12 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

That's an interesting little Tiger fan spin. "Jack Nicklaus is the greatest winner of majors, but Tiger is the gratest golfer of all time"????  How much time did you spend thinknig that BS up??

Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer ever. Period.  HIS record speaks for itself as majors are most important in individual sports like golf and tennis, as championships are most important in the NFL or other team sports.

To date Jack also has won more tournaments than Tiger too, which Tiger wil probably pass as he needs just a few more, but Sam Snead has more wins than both of them and no one ever puts his name in the conversation because majors are still the deal.  

Don't give the BS stroy that Tiger allowed others to win, his goal from being a small child was to win more majors than Jack, not more tournaments or any other records like margin of victory or whatever else, but more majors than Jack. Why b/c thats how the greatest golfer is judged.

Now I will concede that Tiger has done more for golf than ANY other golfer, b/c golf needed another Jack, another player that was better than everyone else. But also becasue Tiger's his ethnicity broke down some old stereotypes and inspired milions of people.  Golf began to become real sport for people of all colors and even people from middle to lower socioeconomic groups, and as others have said Nike jumped all over this.

As for throwing in comments from Els or any others who got crushed by Tiger, why don't you throw in some counter points from the guys that played with Nicklaus.  Tom Weiskopf, "Trying to beat Jack Nicklaus on a Sunday in a major was like trying to drain the Atlanic ocean with a tea cup."

What I find more amazing about Nicklaus is that he did all this BEFORE the equipment made such leaps and bounds forward, AND he did all this BEFORE any golfer ever tryed to lift weights or diet or do any type of fitness regimine.  Also BEFORE anyone ever heard of PEDs, HGH, or "Spin Doctors."  Now I grant that his competitiors didnt do these things either, but just to play as well as he did for so long was an incredible feat for any era, let alone the one he played in.

Nicklaus was a driven man, however he did also raise a large family and he himslef has lamented that he probably could have won more, but there was nobody pushing him, he already was the best an had the record for most majors.

I will end with this one final thing, just to prove what an ultimate competitor Jack Nicklaus was.  In 1998, the year after Tiger won his first Masters by blowing away the field, guess who finished tied for 6th at 58 years old, only 4 shots off the lead. Making like seven birdies in a 10 hole stretch, AND finished two shots ahead of 22 year old Tiger Woods!!!!  JACK NICKLAUS did, and it remains the lowest finish by a player over 50 in a Masters, EVER, and the Masters winners play in it for life if they choose, so there have been many many guys who've tried.  Now you want to tell me that if he were in his 30s when Woods came out that we wouldn't have seen some magical stuff form the older great?

And now we have Rory, who Tiger clearly wants to do what Jack wanted to do to Tiger, beat him down a peg or two and prove who the man is. But Jack was already too old by the time Tiger came along.  Tiger's not too old, and has the benefit of great trainers and dieticians that makes being 36 like peple of Jack's era felt when they were 26.  Let's see what he's got.  Im hoping for a remarkable golf season.


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