Is he the next Tiger Woods? You knew that was what the question was, didn’t you? After watching him annihilate the field at Congressional, how could we ask anything else? Every time he was talked about beyond the live coverage, all we heard was “since Tiger Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach”. He was magnificent this weekend, and has been magnificent at the last three majors as well, just sometimes in the wrong way. We knew he was talented and that he was capable of it, but we weren’t sure if he was ready to be that force of nature the game of golf needs right now. Are we sure now? Has Tiger’s rival arrived just in time to miss actually facing the in-his-prime Tiger? Is he ready to be the hegemonic power of golf or is he still a young pup that is equally likely to choke as he is to light up every course around the world? I have no idea, but my guess lies below.
Let me start by saying I have no clue about the fundamentals and mechanics of a golf swing. I cannot watch a guy’s swing and tell you what is wrong with him, if he is getting a little lucky and headed for trouble or anything else. I can do it with baseball and used similar ideas to predict a good year for Gio Gonzalez last year after watching him live, but I cannot do it with golf. I see the guy swing, I see where the ball goes, and that is a good deal of my analysis about golf. In short, if you are looking for a very technical explanation of Rory McIlroy, stop reading here. Instead, I want to take a look at the actual person Rory McIlroy, his style, and so on. I realize that this is is no way an actual analysis of golf, but rather an analysis of if you are going to want to watch majors golf from now on.
Rory McIlroy has 3 career wins, and while he has all the talent in the world, let’s not forget that he is not exactly the most finished product yet. That will work in his favor in the long run, but doesn’t necessarily bode well for him as far as becoming the new king tomorrow. You know how most years there is an NFL team who gets off to a hot start and then blows away a team we thought was really good, and all of a sudden the championship is theirs to lose? That is Rory McIlroy right now. He may well be the best golfer in the world right now, but he is not that force of nature, no-doubt #1 that the sport craves. He has the tools to put it together and maybe even make it to that point, but he is not there yet. He played a dazzling 4 days of golf, but that does not make him the next Tiger.
He has a few things that are in his favor as far as being the “next Tiger”. He absolutely has the swagger of that superpower #1. Hell, it borders on being a cocky prick half the time, but he clearly has the swagger. Tiger had it, but was so focused on golf in front of the media, we kind of forgot he was an asshole off the course. Of course he had his little shouting fits occasionally, but he got away with it because golf needed him to stay as profitable as it was. Rory has that same demeanor. He is ultra-confident in his abilities and has the play to back it up, just with an extra side of mouthy. Tiger was kind of that way too, but instead of running his mouth, he would either have a very quick jab for someone or would just completely destroy that person on the course. Rory also has the talent to do it, and few would doubt that after what he just did. The third thing he has in common with Tiger is that he has had the spotlight on him for a long time as a golf prodigy, and is used to the pressures that come with that. However, none of this is enough to make him the next Tiger.
Why was Tiger the best I have ever seen and, likely, will ever see? He dominated even when he wasn’t in the fairway, and could close anyone out. Tiger was the ultimate front-runner with leads. He didn’t have a terribly large number of comeback wins in majors or even in regular events because he would jump out to a lead and play immaculate, flawless golf on Sundays. He was compared to Jordan so many times in part because of his absolute killer instinct. Rory may ultimately have both these things, but after this tournament, there is no way to just crown him (cue Dennis Green clip). It was hard to see Rory play out of the rough because he just wore out the fairways, and that is a good thing. That is in no way a criticism of him. However, Tiger’s ability to play brilliant golf even out of the rough meant that even when he wasn’t having his best day, he was still in the hunt and not wondering where it all went terribly wrong. Rory’s lasting memory from the rough was Sunday at Augusta. He may develop that skill, but right now, Rory needs to be playing his absolute best golf to win tournaments whereas Tiger could get by on 75-80%. Rory’s ability to close out will be tested throughout the year if he keeps this up so we will have a better idea of the answer, but we do not know as of yet.
There is another minor characteristic about Rory that really could be a barrier to being considered a dominant player. My best example of this is Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. Bear with me. Why will Matt Ryan never be a true superstar and always just be a very good QB? Better receivers would help, but the other reason is his nickname, Matty Ice. Lemme aks you somehin: how much confidence do you have in a grown man named Matty to come through when it matters most? Does adding Ice do anything for you? Me either. Matt Ryan will never be an elite, superstar QB with that nickname, and it’s not even of his own doing! How many great players do you remember who had mediocre nickanmes? Probably not many. So how does this tie in with Rory McIlroy?
Because he looks like Richie Cunningham’s sister from Happy Days.
While he could be the next Tiger, he is definitely not yet. He has the tools but has a lot to change or improve before he is at that level. Especially the look. Though to be fair, it might play out in his favor. He will probably be able to avoid Tiger’s issue with women.
And yes, this is the last article I write about golf.