By Shane Thomas
Rory McIlroy's meltdown at this year's Masters was well and truly forgotten as he put on a golfing clinic in the US Open to win his first major title by a record score, and become the competition's youngest winner since World War II. His final total of 16 under par was the lowest total ever to win the US Open, obliterating Tiger Woods's record of 12 under to win this tournament at Pebble Beach, back in 2000.
McIlroy was magnificent over the past four days, but after falling apart at Augusta, questions were always going to be asked about his ability to close out a winning position, especially as his collapse in Georgia occurred only two months ago. I said myself that he began that tournament like Tigger and ended it like Piglet.
Despite Charl Schwartzel eventually triumphing at the Masters, all the British press were concerned about was how McIlroy would deal with choking in front of the world's cameras. Reams of newspaper print & internet blogs were devoted to the Ulsterman's state of mind, and the future state of his game. Indeed, "Poor Rory" became a trending topic on Twitter for a couple of days.
However, all McIlroy did was carry on as normal. He didn't hide from the press or become a recluse. He continued with his tournament schedule, remained obliging as regards media requests, and even used his own Twitter page to comment on his failure to get over the line.
There's no doubt that he would have been severely hurt by the events at Augusta National back in April, but his reaction was to accept that golf is one of sport's most capricious mistresses, and go back to doing what he's always done. His performance at Congressional showed that no level of failure could shake McIlroy's belief that he would win the game's most coveted prizes.
I've often compared the Northern Irishman to the A.A Milne character, Tigger, for his self-confidence and organic exuberance around the golf course. Tigger was fond of saying, "bouncing is what Tiggers do best." And with a cavernous lead going into the final day, that's exactly what McIlroy did. He didn't set out to play within himself, or operate at a more negative mindset. He breezed around the eighteen holes, playing with the same aggression and surety that had characterised his game during the previous three days. A near hole-in-one on the 10th hole elicited raucous cheers from the crowd - who seemed to take the 22 year old to their hearts. McIlroy said in his victory interview that it was the moment that he knew the contest was over.
There have been constant comparisons between McIlroy and the absent Tiger Woods, for the way that they burst onto the sport and became a huge draw for crowds & television. And while such comparisons are often the height of inanity, McIlroy's performance was extremely reminiscent of Woods. The way he dominated the course and his opponents from the first day to the last was a facsimile of Tiger in his prime. There were many other impressive scores from the likes of Y.E.Yang, Jason Day, Lee Westwood, Robert Rock and a pleasingly resurgent Sergio Garcia. But none came close to threatening McIlroy's procession to victory.
And this was a procession. If your name wasn't Rory McIlroy in Maryland last night, then all you were playing for was second place. It was McIlroy and the rest. He turned the Congressional County Club into the Hundred Acre Wood, bouncing through the course to his heart's content. He drove with faultless accuracy, his iron shots found the greens with laser-guided precision, and his putting was nerveless. It was a complete performance, truly one of the great displays in a major golf championship. And that's not a hyperbolic statement. It may be a long time, if ever, that we see such dominance in a major tournament again.
While many have delighted in Tiger Woods's fall from grace, I personally have a second reason to hope he can return to his best. If McIlroy's game was a joy to behold over the last four days, then just imagine how compelling a contest would be between the sport's biggest star and its heir apparent.
But for now, let us laud McIlroy's brilliance. And on Father's Day, it was fitting that he got to celebrate with his father as the crowd cheered golf's new superstar. Potential is exciting to witness, but it's ultimately ephemeral unless it's fully realised. Success lasts forever. And so will the memories of Rory McIlroy at the 2011 US Open.
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