KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The comparisons are inevitable. The incredible skill, the youth, even the red shirt on Sunday.
Rory McIlroy’s dominant performance in winning the PGA Championship this weekend looked a lot like the early days of Tiger Woods.
Woods saw it coming more than three years ago. McIlroy made his professional debut in America at age 19 and reached the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship. Woods saw how he drove the ball, the putts he made, the efficient short game and the composure.
He has all of the components to be the best player in the world, there’s no doubt, Woods said back in March 2009. It’s just a matter of time and experience, and then basically gaining that experience in big events. Just give him some time, and I’m sure he’ll be there.
McIlroy didn’t need much time at all.
The 23-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland now has won both his majors, the U.S. Open last year and this weekend’s PGA Championship, by eight shots. There have been only five majors won by eight shots or more since 1976 – three by Woods, two by McIlroy.
McIlroy also won his two majors at a slightly younger age than Woods, though that is a little misleading because he turned pro earlier. The PGA Championship was McIlroy’s 16th major as a pro. Woods won his second major in his 12th try.
But it was the way McIlroy won at Kiawah Island that allowed for the comparisons. After rain forced play to be suspended Saturday, he returned Sunday morning to finish the third round and built a three-shot lead. He wasted no time, pulling ahead with two early birdies. And on a demanding Ocean Course with enough wind to demand utmost precision, McIlroy played the final 23 holes without a bogey. It was reminiscent of Woods going the last 26 holes without a bogey at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open.
He seems to have that ability that when it’s a big tournament, he’s right there just waiting to break loose, Davis Love III said Monday. A lot like Tiger. The bigger the stage, the better he plays.
Does that make McIlroy the next Woods?
Winning the second major was a big deal to McIlroy because so much is expected of him.
He was never going to be a one-and-done major champion. The golf world knew that. But his win at Kiawah followed a turbulent season of peaks and valleys.
McIlroy held off a furious charge by Woods to win the Honda Classic and go to No. 1 in early March. He went into a funk by missing four cuts in five tournaments, and then he shut up the critics with another dominant display in the final major of the year.
I was a little frustrated with how I was playing earlier on in the year, but a few people in this room were probably pushing panic buttons for no reason, McIlroy said. It’s just great to be able to put my name on another major championship trophy, and looking forward to April next year and getting a crack at another one.
That would be Augusta National for the Masters.