Rory McIlroy isn’t missing much, but he IS missing Tiger Woods

As thrilling as it was to watch Rory McIlroy dig deep into his well of determination to clinch the US PGA Championship, as exciting to see him resist the challenge of America’s old stager and latest bright young thing there was an unmistakable feeling that someone had been lost in the gathering gloom at Valhalla.

In securing his third straight tournament win and second consecutive Major championship success, beating Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in the process, McIlroy not only trousered another $1.8 million (€1.35m) he hardly needs - taking his earnings for three weeks’ work to €3.7m - but cemented his position as world’s best golfer - a position he most certainly covets.

As McIlroy jetted off to New York to celebrate the latest stunning achievement of a career still in its infancy, the over-riding feeling of many golf fans was not one of shared joy but of gnawing dissatisfaction.
 Not that the 25-year-old Irishman didn’t deserve to clinch a fourth Major. Not at all. It is that he has done it all unopposed. The king is dead on his feet, long live the king.

As the Holywood prince marked the beginning of his winning streak by hugging ubiquitous runner-up Sergio Garcia after clinching his maiden World Golf Championship victory on the 18th green at Firestone Country Club, the old king found himself in the wincing embrace of a chiropractor.

Having undergone surgery to release a trapped nerve in his back in March, Tiger Woods has found the spirit willing but his flesh too weak to slow the young pretender’s march to the top.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

There is something in sport that demands a contest to decide the victor; a sporting guarantee for fans that the new man is worthy of top spot because he has earned it by beating the best.

That that contest for the ages has been postponed - possibly indefinitely - by Tiger’s growing list of injuries hurts McIlroy as much as Woods. The days when he could, according to Kenny Perry after Tiger returned from knee surgery to win the 2008 US Open, "beat everybody on one leg" are over.

Woods, whose father Earl served in the US military in Vietnam, had, according to former swing coach Hank Haney in his insightful book The Big Miss, flirted with joining the elite Navy SEALs and regularly subjected himself to that unit’s punishing training regime while he was still bestriding the golfing landscape.

It is amazing to think of Woods, the No 1 golfer in the world at the time and one of the planet’s highest paid sportsmen, putting his finely tuned body through parachute jumps, hand-to-hand combat exercises and assault courses.

It was even reported to Haney by two sources that Woods had badly hurt his already injured left knee while storming a ‘kill house’ on a SEALs exercise. The coach wondered how much of a physical toll the bizarre flirtation with military life would eventually take on his student.

He may now have his answer.

While his off-course problems have perhaps cut away at his own sense of invulnerability as much as his knee and back surgeries have his body, there was still a flash of the old Woods following his lowly 69th-place finish at the Open last month. As the Irishman celebrated his third Major success at Royal Liverpool, Woods said of McIlroy: “When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad — it’s one or the other.”

For a man who carefully files away everything said and written about him and then uses it as motivation, the 38-year-old must have known that his Nike stablemate could use his words to drive him to even greater heights.

It was another sign that Woods was running out of strictly golfing weapons with which to fend off the Irishman.

How he would love to be the one to test the young man’s Major mettle coming down the stretch on a Sunday. Would McIlroy have somehow turned it all around on Valhalla's back nine if it were a fully functioning Woods, and not Fowler, who was putting it up to him?

Now imagine if that scenario played out at every tournament. No counting Majors or money to work out who the top man is. Golf would become the greatest show on earth. The Beatles versus the Stones in a sporting battle of the bands every seven days.

That’s what sports fans have been robbed of by the American’s physical decline.

And the thought of it should strike you as immobile as a one-legged Tiger in a back brace.

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