Gary Player saw the potential in 2008. “Rory McIlroy, if he goes about it and is managed correctly, could turn out to be the best player in the world in his time. This young man is brilliant. His golf swing is unbelievable and his theory side is better than Tiger Woods’.”
In 2011, at just 22 years and 46 days, the fresh-faced and curly-haired youngster, born in the Northern Irish town of Holywood, became the youngest winner of the US Open since the legendary Bobby Jones in 1923 and the youngest from the European Tour since its inception. He beat the record of Severiano Ballesteros, who was 22 years and 103 days old when he won the British Open.
Rory was also close to breaking the record aggregate score in a major championship: 19-under by Woods in the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews.
His exploits at the Congressional Country Club in Maryland were enlivened by some sensational records. Not only did he finish eight strokes ahead of second-placed Australian Jason Day but he carded a tournament record 16-under over the four days of the tournament.
Few were surprised that he won a Grand Slam event – it had been a widespread prediction for years – but no one could have expected such a landslide victory.
Rory enjoyed a triumphal march on the Sunday, carding a two-under 69 for a 268 total (16-under) that beat Tiger Woods’ previous US Open record of 12-under at Pebble Beach in 2000.
“The whole week has been incredible,” he said. “I could not have asked for any more and I am so happy to hold this trophy. For such a small nation to win two US Opens in a row is pretty special. As Graeme (McDowell) said last year, there will be a lot of pints of Guinness going down. I know a few of my friends will be partying and I can’t wait to get home and join them.”
With Padraig Harrington saying that McIlroy has the potential to challenge Jack Nicklaus’s 18-major record, it ought to be noted that the Golden Bear was a few months older when his first win came.
But the most remarkable thing is that it was only in April that same year that McIlroy had seen a four-stroke lead turn into a 10-shot defeat with a closing round of 80 at Augusta National.
Speaking of that Masters tournament disappointment, he said, “Augusta was a valuable experience. I knew what I needed to do today to win. I learnt a few things there about myself and my game. I put a few different things into practice and it paid off.”
This was the first major since then and he was a class apart from the moment he started in the same way he had at the Masters tournament with a 65.
Whether or not he ultimately goes on to do more than Nicklaus or Tiger Woods should not detract from his 2011 achievement:
Lowest halfway total, 131; biggest halfway lead, six (with Woods); lowest 54-hole total, 199; quickest to 10-under, 26 holes; quickest to 11-under, 32 holes; quickest to 12-under, 34 holes; first to 13-under, 35 holes; first to 14-under, 50 holes; first to 15-under, 55 holes; first to 16-under, 58 holes; first to 17-under, 64 holes; most under par for 72 holes, 16-under; and lowest 72-hole total, 268 (by four).
He also became only the third player to have four rounds in the 60s at the event; and, while those statistics, inevitably, also said something about how soft the Washington course was all week, it was the same for everyone and only one took full advantage.