How Good Is Rory McIlroy?

It’s always a temptation to exaggerate the importance of one specific event. But Rory McIlroy running away with the 2012 PGA Championship by a record 8 shots should not be underestimated for its significance in the world of pro golf, or pro golf autographs for that matter.

McIlroy joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the third man to win his second major by age 23. Impressive company to say the least. Not only that, but McIlroy won both his majors in dominating, Tiger-esque fashion. We don’t know exactly what the future holds for McIlroy, but at the moment he is clearly the best young golfer in the world with perhaps another 20 years to craft a resume that might approach Nicklaus and Woods, who are probably the two best golfers in history, at least in the modern era.

What’s also notable about McIlroy is that increasing fame has seemingly failed to alter his personality or how he deals with fans or media. I had an up close and personal view of how Tiger changed immediately following his historic 1997 Masters win. The next month, Tiger played the Byron Nelson tournament outside Dallas, and he acted more arrogantly than any athlete I’ve seen before or since. One day after his round, he grabbed a Sports Illustrated from someone, scribbled his name on it while almost running to the clubhouse, and literally threw it up in the air behind him — obviously not caring if it got trampled by the crowd, much less whether the owner was able to retrieve it. Now, those circumstances were unique, and Tiger has matured considerably since then. But it seems that McIlroy at age 23 is better equipped to deal with fame than Tiger was at the same age.

Although I’ve had limited personal experiences with McIlroy, I’ve had friends report that he hasn’t changed his prolific signing habits much since winning the 2011 U.S. Open despite being mobbed by Tiger-sized crowds. McIlroy has been dating WTA Tour tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Anything is possible, but it’s really hard to imagine McIlroy ever getting caught in an ugly sex scandal (especially now that Tiger has shown the world how damaging that can be).

Meanwhile, another four majors have come and gone, and Woods is still winless since the 2008 U.S. Open. His chances of catching Jack’s record of 18 major wins grows dimmer with each failure. At the moment McIlroy is a little bit better and a lot younger than Tiger, and he’s not going away. Only time will tell whether or not McIlroy will challenge Nicklaus and Woods for long term dominance in majors, but he certainly is headed in the right direction.

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