On-form McIlroy at top of his game

As Rory McIlroy stepped onto the first tee box in the final round of the USPGA Championship yesterday, he would have been well aware of the calibre of the chasing pack.

By John McHenry

As Rory McIlroy stepped onto the first tee box in the final round of the USPGA Championship today, he would have been well aware of the calibre of the chasing pack.

Players like Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson were dangerous and more than capable of blitzing the soft Valhalla course. More importantly they were also starting ahead of McIlroy and if they could get some early momentum, then they could make life very difficult indeed for the form player in the world, the man looking to win his second successive major championship and his fourth in total, in little over three years.

Form suggested that the supremely confident McIlroy was in control of the tournament, but the beauty of sport and golf in particular is its unpredictability.

McIlroy’s own past experiences, most notably his meltdown at Augusta would have taught him that, but in truth McIlroy’s confidence, his driving prowess and arsenal of shots and most importantly his newly found gritty resilience would ensure that it would most probably take something very special indeed to deny the man from Northern Ireland.

Nothing, it seems, is impossible at the moment for the 25-year-old who’s at the top of his profession and it appears that there’s no real indication that McIlroy is prepared to take his foot off the throttle any time soon either – indeed his dominant form is slowly begging to start to intimidating his fellow competitors.

In his prime, Tiger intimidated when leading from the front because his record was so strong in closing out victories. His dominance was borne out of making so few mistakes under pressure. He was the master pressure putter.

Rory, on the other hand, intimidates through his aggressive golf. On form, he forces players to shoot low scores and to continuously play aggressively on tough golf courses. Instead of protecting his leads, he relentlessly seeks to keep building them. For example, how many times over this past week have we witnessed McIlroy respond to round-defining setbacks or when his lead has been threatened?

That takes courage and no shortage of mental strength. It also amply demonstrates McIlroy’s new found maturity.

McIlroy's dominance stems from his driving ability. Much like Greg Norman of old, he is the game's most consistently dominant driver and on soft courses like Valhalla that is a great asset.

In time, it seems that his driving ability may well be rated as influential as Tiger Wood’s putter and Phil Mickelson’s lob wedge.

For all his potential, what has been most impressive in Rory’s career to date is his attitude on and off the golf course. Refreshingly honest, he is not afraid to front up to the media answering all of their questions honestly while other leading professionals are not. Nor is he afraid to speak his mind or reveal his demons – all of which make him very popular indeed with the media.

Unlike Tiger, he doesn’t openly appear to be overly fixated either with winning a certain number of major tournaments or breaking any records but as keen as he is to stress that he wants to enjoy his life and that golf is not the be all and end all, his present dominance in the game will continuously invite comparisons and hype.

Going forward, he has the Fed Ex Cup and the Race to Dubai to look forward to, as well a little old Ryder Cup match against the Americans at Gleneagles, but his next true golfing date with destiny will be at Augusta National next April where a win would make him only the sixth man in history to complete a grand slam of Majors.

And so given that his presence on the world stage brings a lot of great publicity to golf and young golfers worldwide, then what should be his ambition and lasting legacy in the game?

Should he solely focus his attention on achieving his awesome potential or can he use his profile and brand to make a deeper impact on the game globally?

Nicklaus, when not playing golf, focused almost exclusively on his family and his successful golf course architecture. McIlroy will have all of those opportunities too, but hopefully he will also find some time to help those organisations like the PGA of America and Europe, the R&A and the USGA to find new and more modern ways to further grow the game of golf all ages and all ranges of ability.

As fans of McIlroy, we know that his performances will always take us on a journey that none of us can fully imagine and for that we constantly rejoice in his success.

As golfers ourselves we also hope that one day part of McIlroy’s legacy might be that he was just as influential in helping the game to continue to grow and flourish.

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