Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Rory McIlroy could raise bar to new level

Rory McIlroy holds the trophy after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship PGA golf tournament at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., Monday, Sept. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Rory McIlroy is set to dominate the golfing world — in a manner not seen since the heyday of Tiger Woods — following his Deutsche Bank victory.

His second tournament win in just a couple of weeks after his second major victory at last month’s US PGA, it has cemented his position at the top of the world rankings.

And for the first time since Woods was toppled one spot by Martin Kaymer, there is clear blue sky between the number one and the chasing pack.

The top spot has changed hands between the Ulsterman, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Kaymer since he took over two years ago, but now McIlroy looks set for an extended stay on top of the pile.

And now his fellow pros are beginning to wonder just how much the 23-year-old can achieve in the game.

Monday’s victory propelled him to the top of the FedEx Cup rankings leaving him perfectly placed to claim the staggering $10m end-of-season prize.

And even though he has played most of his golf in the States this year, he leads the European Tour’s Race to Dubai by a cool half a million euros and is set to clinch the Harry Vardon Trophy for the first time.

Yet it was the manner of his win at the end-of-season play-offs in Boston which has the rest wondering what they must do if they are to prevent the Ulsterman from bestriding the game in the way that Woods used to.

He led the field not only in driving distance — impressive enough at an average of 305 yards — but was also number one in putting.

That’s about as potent a combination as it gets, and one that Woods could only dream of as he missed putt after putt from the ten-foot distance from where he used to be so deadly as he chased McIlroy’s shadow.

McIlroy’s two majors have been won by commanding eight shots victories, but Boston showed he could perform under pressure to win, holding off Louis Oosthuizen’s stern challenge to win by one shot.

And it was the South African — so imperious on his march to the Open title at St Andrew a couple of summers ago — who wilted in the heat of battle, over the closing two holes.

At one stage Oosthuizen, whom many regard to have a swing equal to if not better than McIlroy’s, held a six-shot advantage in the third round and began the final day three ahead of his rival.

A closing 67 to win a tournament is impressive by any standards and it matches McIlroy’s effort of Sunday’s third round after two opening seven under efforts of 65. Over the four days he hit 25 birdies.

The blip of the mid-season when he missed four cuts in a row including during his defence of the US Open is well and truly over.

If there was a chink of light for his rivals it was the couple of duffed shots he hit during his final round — including almost inexplicably a three-wood off the tee at 11th.

But he was able to laugh them off with caddie JP Fitzgerald on his way round and when he was faced with a tee-shot over water on the par three 16th he simply smashed another one of his towering irons to the heart of the green.

Great things will be expected from McIlroy at the Ryder Cup at Medinah at the end of the month — and his will be the European scalp the Americans will all be desperate to take.

But few, surely, will relish taking on the Ulster partnership he will form with Graeme McDowell which should be the bedrock of Jose Maria Olazabal’s team.

Woods, who came up two short of McIlroy, incidentally became the first man to pass $100m in prize money with his third place finish.

What price on McIlroy now becoming the second?

He’s already the youngest to win five times on the PGA Tour since Woods and the comparisons are unlikely to end there over the coming years.

Ooosthuizen, who has become a close friend of McIlroy’s since his Open win, was magnanimous in defeat.

“Rory’s not world number one for nothing,” he said.

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