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 16, 2011
Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:56 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Rory Mcllroy is the best golfer to arrive on the golf scene since Tiger Woods.  He will continue to be a great golfer provided he can be satisfied with being the second best golfer on the PGA tour.  Hopefully, he will not make the same mistake as other young golfers--and some older ones--who could not be contented with being second best to Woods and screwed up their game trying to be better than their best.

Woods is already the greatest golfer to play the game.  His record proves it.  Jack Nicklaus is the greatest winner of majors of all time, but Woods is the greatest golfer.

Rocky Mediate said it best when somebody suggested several years ago that the gap between Woods and the rest of the field was narrowing. Rocky's response was that the gap was a wide a Woods wanted it to be.  Ernie Els called Woods a freak and responding to Jack's criticism of the rest of the field for not sufficiently challenging Woods, responded that Tiger would be kicking Jack's behind too if he were out there.

You see, Woods knows how to aim for the woods, the rough, bunkers or the edge of the cup when he wants to keep matches competitive or give other player a chance to win.  He knows what it would have done to golf if he won as often as he could.  What would that have done his relationship with other golfer.  Golf would have become too predictable.

What Tiger will decide to do with respect to McIIroy is uncertain, but what seems certain is that Rory is destined to deserve a place near the top among the greatest in the game.  I'm not sure Tiger will try to prevent that.  I believe Tiger will stick around long enough to convince Rory and the golfing world that he is still the best of all time, then retire or step back and allow Rory to rule.


Since: Jan 17, 2007
Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:04 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

PhD87: Actually, Nicklaus  won 14 of his majors by the time he was Tiger's current age, and 4 therafter.

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: March 7, 2012 8:58 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Fair enough, PhD, but my point is basically this:  Why should we compare Rory to Tiger Woods when we could compare him to Jack Nicklaus?  By way of example, in 2001, people were not comparing Woods to Nick Faldo, even though Faldo was the more recent golfer.

Rory said it best:  I'm not the next anybody.  I'm the first Rory.  The media needs to stop trying to work Woods into every golf story.

As for Woods winning again, I've said hundreds of times I fully expect him to win again.  What he will never do is be "back."  Too much water under the bridge.  He'll never be thought of the same way.  And, on the course, you're never going to see 2001 again.  It's odd for me to think about this now, but I never expected Woods to suffer any kind of down period after the scandal.  He played well his first time out, and I thought, "Of course.  Why would he not?"  No one is more surprised than me that he has not yet won.

But I stand by my point that the media needs to stop trying to work Woods into every story.  Which is the genesis of my comment which seems to have offended your sensibilities.  Rory is saying, Stop it, guys, I'm the first Rory, end of story.  The media, however, won't let it go.  They insist on comparing Rory not to Jack, but to Tiger Woods.  Why?  To keep Woods name in the headlines.  The more closely I observe today's golf media, the more I feel Nike is pulling the strings.  Hedge fund managers influenced elected officials to give them a huge tax break; Nike wielding influence on Golf Channel would be nothing new under the sun.  To repeat what I've said before: there is no separation of church and state in the golf media.

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: March 7, 2012 8:40 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Good post, Foot, although I don't agree with all that much of it.  However, I do agree about the best golf sometimes being on the Nike Tour where guys are fighting for their golf survival.  There's a fantastic article about Keegan Bradley written when he playing the minor leagues.  What a long way he's come in just a couple of years.

, including a link to the article.

Since: Mar 7, 2012
Posted on: March 7, 2012 3:50 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

@LannyH: You can bash the media and Tiger's fans all you want, but you're probably the less objective poster around.
Such comments as "What's special about Tiger Woods?" totally discredit you. For someone who pretends to know golf, you seem to have missed a crucial 15-years period. Woods already holds a lot of records - and nobody in golf history had as many wins (and majors) at the age of 36.  Even if he retired right now, a lot of pages in the golf record book would be dedicated to him. Unfortunately for you, not only is he not retiring, but he's rather showing signs that he will extend some his marks soon enough. Unless you stop living in denial and accept that Woods will win again and get a lot of mediatic attention, the upcoming seasons are going to be really frustrating for you.
For a little refresher of what is so special about Woods (i.e. of the 15 years you seem to have missed), you can go there:


Since: Mar 21, 2008
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:55 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time


Interesting link on wins. Just for everyones perusal.   Relevant to the climb that this young crowd has in front of them .

Since: Jan 19, 2009
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:42 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Interesting points Lanny, although Im not sure I completely agree with everything you said I do agree with some of it. 

And again people need to really look into what McIlroy has accomplished before they make judgment or comment.  He is NOT "the next Phil" as one poster put, quite simply b/c Phil didnt win a major until he was well over thirty.  We all know he shouldve won several before that but he didn't. 

McIlroy is being compared to Tiger and Jack b/c those are the two guys, and Johnny Miller(who was also very young when he won his first major), who showed this much talent and won a major this young.  It is rare.  And that is why people are talking and hyping him more, he deserves it. He is not the next guy that just happened to get to number one.  Hes a 22 year old, that has already won a US Open, has won several titles on both the PGA and European tour, who is now number one.  There is a difference between him and Luke Donald or Martin Kaymer and people who don't get that are simply not informed enough to comment.

Since: Mar 21, 2008
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:31 pm

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Lanny Good comments. And none of us know what will be. I just look at every other golfer out there over the last few years and it is a revolving circus without a clear strong crowd. I am totally underwhwelmed by the 'gentlemanness' of golf, where we dont' say he choked, or what the heck is he doing.

I would disagree on Woods although I see where you are coming from.  In my mind, Tiger revolutionized golf.  He transformed it from a fat white guy game to universal game that actually has real athletes invovled.  Look at Westy and Rory, those guys went buff out this last year, because thats what it takes to be really good, all the time.   

Now I love golf, but the pro circuit is full of whiny millionaires that cannot produce day in and day out.    They are hacks.   If the cameras were better on the Nike tour, I'll bet we see more competitive golf.   Tiger made golf almost a team sport, because we could actually root for the same guy week in and week out.   

That being said if these guys can consistently perform at the the high end and make the shots that have to be made when they count the most, I'm all over it.  But time and again its disappointing effort after disappointing effort with one good tourney sprinkled throughout.  Lets look at it this way, Tiger has sucked for the 2 years of the current scoring for World rankings and is now 16th or 17th in teh rankings?   Thats unbelievable to me.  But highlights just how bad the golf community is (realtively obviously).

Personally, I am much more impressed with Phils start to this year than Rorys.   Its going to be a great Masters when all these guys get to it, although this week might be a little primer for Augusta. 

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:48 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

I think Kaptain's reply shows what the golf media is desperately trying to do.  They want the Woods Only fans to develop a hatred for Rory.  "Why Rory is going to do better then Tiger, you better watch out!  You better tune in just to cheer against this guy!"

What a sick, twisted way for the golf media to cover golf.  They remind me of the birther idiots.  I hope the public has a long enough memory to punish the sportswriters who are currently damaging the sport in this way.

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:43 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Foot, I don't think you are following McIlroy's career to make such comments as you did.  McIlroy is the best player on the planet, period.  End of discussion.

As for the constant comparisons to Woods, it's time to drop that.  I thought Teres did a great job of staying away from that topic.

Like Rory said yesterday, he's not the next anybody, he's the first Rory McIlroy.  I feel the constant Woods' comparisons have one purpose: to keep Woods name in the news.  The media doesn't want the golf idiots to return to NASCAR, but true golf fans sure as heck do.

I also find it annoying, as well as amusing, that for fifteen years we've heard nothing but Woods vs Nicklaus comparisons, and to be honest, the press gave Nicklaus the short end of the stick.  Suddenly now, Woods' career has imploded, and we have all kinds of new information about his private life and his connections to a convicted PED distributing felon.  I guess I'm saying that this obsession to compare McIlroy to Woods is highly insulting to Rory.  What's special about Woods?  He's not the historical top dog -- Nicklaus is inarguably ahead of him, and many others arguably so -- and we have very serious questions about what he did to stay healthy and perform well.  Not to mention he hasn't won in over two years.

The only reason in the world Woods gets the bizarre amount of coverage he does is because of Nike's advertising budget and the golf media's counterproductive (to the good of the game) attempt to hang onto the "marginal" fans.

I'll say it again: golf is going to be better when Woods is gone.  Not because of Woods -- his play has been superb, and he still is capable of winning any given week -- but because of the Tiger Only fans who cause the press to dumb down coverage and make it one dimensional.  What we have now is like turning on PBS to watch Great Performances and all they show is Lady Gaga.  Yeah, she's more popular than Bach right now, but the core audience expects more challenging exposure to arts and culture.  Golf has historically appealed to a different crowd than, say, NASCAR, or hockey, or NFL and NBA.  Advertisers targeted influential business executives, investors, and golf players, i.e., golf equipment purchasers.  They didn't need to try to make golf "cool."  Golf is never going to compete with the NFL.  Not even NCAA football.  Forget about it.

Yesterday, I spent some time on YouTube and watched Jack Nicklaus hitting tee shots in various tournaments in the past.  "In the hole!" was nowhere to be found.  Fans didn't make any sound until the ball was in the air long enough to tell where it was headed.  Contrast that to last week's Honda Classic where there must have been twenty idiots screaming after every shot or putt.  Why are those people even at the event?  I'll put it frankly: I want them gone.  They need to be in the infield at NASCAR or cheering maniacally at a WWE event.

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