Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Rise of Rory McIlroy and Fall of Tiger Woods

“I think we can safely say Tiger has lost his game, and his mind,” an observation made by Sir Nick Faldo when the once great golfer kicked away his 9-iron in disgust. A brave statement from Faldo, a man so pompous that he probably practices chat up lines in the mirror.

That episode coupled with infidelity and a litany of injuries has turned the once growling Tiger into a pathetic kitten. Perhaps some of the injuries are intrinsically linked to his infidelity, all that romping is bound to take its toll, but that is a conversation for another day. Similar to Fernando Torres, somewhat mysteriously, one can’t help but think that Tiger will never reach the soaring heights of yesteryears. Quite simply, the man once considered to be the greatest golfer in the world will never reclaim that appellation again, especially as Rory McIlroy seems to be evolving at a ridiculous rate.

It’s the best part of two decades since a gaunt looking Tiger Woods burst on to the stage and embarked on a career with more twists and turns than a Guatemalan back road. From the time Woods started winning our hearts, as clichéd as it might sound, the world has been trying to uncover the next Tiger. Mickelson, Singh, Duval, Woods has had some laudable rivalries, but McIlroy looks like he could very well surpass any achievements gained by the aforementioned legends.

Think back to a time when Tiger seemed a certainty to obliterate Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. But now, sadly for the game, he appears to be severely limited by chronic back problems that led to his withdrawal from the Bridgestone Invitational after just nine holes.
In attempting to explain his latest injury, Tiger claimed it was not connected to the pinched nerve treatment he received in March.
One of the main reasons why Tiger may never return to his prolific ways comes down to a lack of stability and consistency.

Since that life-altering period in 2009, Tiger has only secured ten top-five finishes in tournaments, and for a man that was once accustomed to continuous triumphs, this signals a radical change that he may never recover from.

Remember when Tiger never got flustered, never got worked up, never succumbed to pressure. Even if he was playing appallingly, driving preposterously and putting miserably, Tiger would always maintain a solid exterior and bounce back to form. The now notorious Bruce Lee inspired, kicking episode entirely encapsulates the irritation that Woods is facing with his own failure to play steady, superior golf. Once possessing the mental muscle of John Rambo, Tiger’s inner strength is now officially M.I.A.

Similar to Rambo, though, emotional problems will continue to preoccupy Woods and hinder any chance of a return to the glory days.

Along with his mental state, Woods’ left knee has been the focus of much analysis, given the numerous surgeries he has had on it since his early days at Stanford. As much as his knee and his bedroom antics have hampered his career, Tiger’s back must be his biggest worry when he considers his future.

While Tiger seems to have a litany of weaknesses, Rory McIlroy doesn’t seem to possess one obvious limitation. His driving ability has really set him apart this year. With an average driving distance of 310 yards, Rory has shown that all those hours pumping iron in the gym have proven to be invaluable. July’s ascent to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, ending Adam Scott’s nine-week run at the top, has shown that Rory has made great strides in such a short period.

From a very young age, similar to Woods, it was clear that Rory was a prodigy. Driving the ball 40-yarda at the age of two, Rory was fascinated by golf, far too busy to be absorbed by normal two year old activities; mainly wetting the bed and watching The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Instead, the young man from Holywood (no, not US Hollywood), a small coastal town in County Down, decided to entertain neighbors by frequently chipping balls into the drum of his parents’ washing machine.

Along with Nicklaus and Woods, McIlroy’s recent Open Championship triumph saw him become just the third player in golfing history to win three of the four majors by the age of 25.

Where has Rory’s potency come from? Well, in a recent interview, McIlroy stated that his recent split up from Caroline Wozniacki played a crucial role in his new found impetus.

After a brilliant display at the 96th USPGA Championship, who can argue with him, apart from Wozniacki, I suppose.
Becoming world junior champion at the age of 10, by the time Rory was 16 he was ranked as the world’s the top amateur golfer. In 2007, as a shy, skinny 18 year old, Rory captured the global limelight with a striking performance at the 2007 Carnoustie British Open, and shortly after this impressive display he turned pro.

Seven years ago, though far from muscular, McIlroy possessed a purity of swing, and when he combined this with his brimming self-assurance, the world knew that a superstar was in the making.

As the rise of Rory McIlroy is laudable, the demise of Woods is distasteful. What must the original golden child of modern day golf have been thinking when McIlroy secured back-to-back Major titles? A supreme closer of deals, Rory showcased his mental strength to overcome the dark, threatening skies at Valhalla Golf Club.

Adding the US PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy to the Claret Jug he secured so imposingly at Hoylake, are we entering an era of a new king with dreams of an extensive reign? Watching the Northern Irishman defy vanishing light and a horde of challengers, one could be forgiven for thinking so. Rory finished the day with a one-stroke win over Phil Mickelson, thus enabling him to claim a fourth career Major.

On Sunday McIlroy had to show mental and testicular fortitude, unlike his three preceding Major victories, in the 2011 US Open, the 2012 US PGA and the 2014 British Open, which were each won with a self-assured swagger and displays of genius,.

Battling demons both on and off the golf course, McIlroy’s star unexpectedly faded away in 2013. But, testament to the man, victory in the Australian Open late in the year and a much publicized split with tennis-playing girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki seemed to pave the way for a return to eminence.

On a course assaulted by a short but extreme torrent which bucketed over an inch of rain onto an already saturated surface, McIlroy quickly went from assuming the role of the hunter to assuming that of the hunted. As Mickelson and Fowler and Stenson played top quality golf, McIlroy actually found himself two shots adrift of the leading trio. Nevertheless, he found the ultimate answer with a shot to the par-5 10th that proved to be a championship-securing moment. Then, following a stupendous drive down the middle of the fairway, from 280 yards, McIlroy grabbed his 3-wood in an influential manner and hit a dramatic shot that finished a few feet from the flag. After converting an eagle putt and, almost certainly, all of the previous front nine fears were eradicated.

Like the Tiger of old, McIlroy, proved that he too can cope with whatever demands come with showing class when class is required. A final round of countless delights, from Fowler’s chipping in for birdie on the fifth to Stenson’s putting potency; this was a day where the cowardly were swept away by heavy rain and even heavier pressure.

This was The Hunger Games of golf, and McIlroy was the last man standing. A heart in mouth moment arrived when McIlroy – who held a two-stroke lead on the 18th tee following a fabulous birdie on the 17th – barely avoided the exposure down the right and then found a greenside bunker with his effort. The ‘salvaging’ shot was followed by two meticulous putts for par, enough to guarantee success.

When Ted Bishop, the US PGA president, dropped the lid of the trophy during presentation, McIlroy made a one-handed catch to save any embarrassment; a Ryan Gosling meets George Clooney moment that solidified his status as the coolest man in golf.

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