Rory McIlroy Golf’s New No. 1
At the ripe old age of 22, Rory McIlroy is now the new No. 1 ranked player golf in the world. He earned this honor by winning Sunday at the Honda Classic, shooting a 1 under score of 69 in the final round to hold off late charges by Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods.
McIlroy has been on the radar of golf pundits since his days as amateur, and has definitely lived up to the advanced billing. It has been a steady ascension up the rankings for McIlroy since turning professional in the fall of 2007, earning wins on both the PGA and European Tour’s and quickly becoming one of the new faces of golf. Over time he has developed one of the most impeccable golf swings you will ever see, and has the talent to simply overwhelm certain courses (and tour players) with his power and all-around game.
Before his win today, the defining moments of McIlroy’s young career came during two month stretch last summer. At the 2011 Master’s Rory seemed ready to grab his first major golf championship, as he toyed with Augusta National for the first 3 days of the tournament and entered the final round with a four stroke cushion. He imploded in dramatic fashion on Sunday however, shooting an 80 and earning the unfortunate distinction of putting up the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the third round of the Masters. While it would have been understandable for McIlroy to fall of the reservation and into a Sergio Garcia type of fun after that debacle, he quickly bounced back at the U.S. Open held at Congressional in June. With a performance that was reminiscent of Tiger Woods 1997 Masters (and first major) triumph, Rory finished with an unthinkable score of 16-under par to set a new U.S. Open scoring record and claim his first major title.
It has been an impressive run by McIlroy in chasing down the top spot in golf. While most players run into the occasional tournament or round were they simply don’t have it, Rory has been consistently performing at a high level, finishing in the top ten in 10 out of the last 11 events he has competed in. Battling windy conditions in today’s final round, he kept turning out pars and never really gave those trailing him a sense that he wasn’t in complete control. The gallery was whipped into a frenzy by the brilliant rounds put up by Westwood (63) and Woods (62), and Tiger’s birdie-eagle finish to end his day sent a roar through the golf course that made it all the way back to McIlroy. He never flinched though, and after his birdie on the par-4 13th Rory made pars on each of the last five holes to seal the victory. McIlroy is so strong off the tee and with his irons that you often forgot how good he is around the greens, as his sand saves on Nos. 15 and 17 were a thing of beauty and left him with relatively stress free par putts.
Not one to rest on his laurels, McIlroy will be back in action this week’s Cadillac Championship at the Doral Resort & Spa. He will encounter a top-notch field containing some of the game’s best players, including Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Hunter Mahan, Martin Kaymer, and Dustin Johnson. After that we can start looking ahead to the 2012 Masters, and with so many players beginning to peak and round into form there will be plenty of drama as this year’s first major unfolds. Rory will be one of the prohibitive favorites going in and could win very well walk away with his first green jacket. While the Masters often brings relatively unknown players into the spotlight, I am personally hoping for a long awaited Sunday duel between some combination of Rory, Tiger, and Phil. The best young player of his generation squaring off against two of the best players this game has ever seen in the final round of a major? It is bound to happen eventually, here’s hoping this is the year it does.
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