Date: July 21, 2014
Author: Mike Clayton /

Rory has chance to define an era

The careers of some players are defined by the historic championships they win.   Wayne Grady and Ian Baker-Finch will forever be remembered for their USPGA and Open championships won in the opening years of the 1990s.

Others have a chance to define the history of their time. They are the truly great players. Vardon, Jones Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods.

If it wasn’t apparent before this Open Championship it is now wildly obvious Rory McIlroy has a chance to define the era of professional golf post Tiger Woods.

It assumes Woods’ best days are past. Probably they were as far back as 2000 when he played extraordinary consecutive major championships at Pebble Beach and St Andrews. The question of what he may achieve from this point is however far from settled. Woods played a good round, a 69, on Thursday but never came close to breaking 70 the rest of then way and a horrific drive out of bounds on Friday meant he had to make an eight footer on the 36th green just to make the cut.

McIlroy coming in the group behind that Friday afternoon smashed a driver within forty yards of the front of the green and had Tiger bothered to look back from the 18th tee it would have been distressing viewing. Here was a rival much younger with a not unfamiliar, to Woods, set of skills.

Winning major championships is rarely easy – McIlroy’s U.S Open win at Congressional in 2011 was one example of a player unchallenged all week – but his six shot Saturday night lead looked like Sunday would be another rout.

Instead a day of mild wind and par fives easily reachable with irons made Hoylake vulnerable in the face of an onslaught with modern driver and ball.

McIlroy was six ahead at the start of the day but Sergio Garcia edged within two shots after fourteen holes but the Spaniard bogeyed the little downhill par three 15th and consigned himself to another second place in a major championship.

It was fifteen years ago nineteen-year-old Garcia ran Woods a close second in the PGA championship at Medinah and still he is without something to define his career. He hits as well as anybody, he has had his chances and he has time still but one wonders if he will finish up being that cursed ‘best player to never win a major championship’.

Of the current day stars he is right at the top of that list.

Adam Scott and Marc Leishman played beautiful golf, Scott especially as he was on the ‘late/early’ side of the draw where the less fortunate found the heaviest winds. McIlroy in contrast played the easier side and with a pair of opening 66s took full advantage his fortune.

Leishman is quietly climbing the ladder almost unnoticed, in part because he is Australian and in part because he is, well, quiet.

In the fashion of almost all competitive players in this time he is a long driver but he plays the game well and sensibly and growing up in Warrnambool, he learned to play in high winds. There may be windier places on the planet than Warrnambool but you wouldn’t be going there to play golf for fun.

McIlroy though was the hero at Hoylake, winning with powerful driving, great iron play and the necessary short game. At 25 he has three of the four major championships and with only the one he was most likely to win first, The Masters, to go to join Nicklaus, Woods, Hogan, Gene Sarazen, and Gary Player as winners of the professional grand slam.

He says he is far ahead of where he though he might be but the time he reached his mid-twenties but anyone who saw him play at Royal Sydney in the 2006 Australian Open is not particularly surprised. Nor is anyone who saw him at Royal Sydney last December where he spoiled Scott’s homecoming party with a birdie on the final hole.

His win at Royal Sydney was his first for the year and even he would find it hard to prosecute the case, his poor early 2013 form was due to changing (for a serious amount if money) the ball he had used for years as well as every single one of his fourteen clubs.

Now is he presumably comfortable with his equipment the assumption has to be the Northern Irishman will go on and define the next decade of major championship golf.