Rory McIlroy, the curly-haired young man from Northern Ireland got his McTriple. Now only a green jacket is needed to complete his career Grand Slam. Somewhat like the previous major championship (Kaymer 65 – 65, McIlroy 66 – 66), this one may have taken a bit longer to decide, but in the end dominant play prevailed. Tied with Ricky Fowler through thirteen holes on a damp Saturday in Liverpool, McIlroy destroyed the final two par-fives crafting his own double-eagle of sorts. The bold statement of superior ball striking sent a subtle message. As Jim Croce once sang, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.”
An Open Championship victory involves many aspects. The game is different. The courses are humpy and bumpy. Inclement weather can often turn a leader board upside-down. At Hoylake, those who had trouble embracing links golf were quickly dismissed. This major is a one-eighty from the other three. On Saturday the R&A decided to employ a two-tee start in threesomes, something never done before. The players avoided a British maelstrom that might have hoisted Matt Every on top of the yellow leader board. The conditions were so quiescent that young Rory pounced on the final two par fives with a display of precise power making other players look as if they were competing in the flighted division of any county open. Securing a six-shot margin after 54 holes, McIlroy looked and sounded as if he would become the next “Champion Golfer of the Year”.
On Sunday a couple of challengers made it interesting for viewers looking for an implosion. Had Garcia not left his bunker shot on 15 in the pit and Fowler dropped a few putts on the front nine, McIlroy might have been forced into the four-hole playoff. The leaderboard looked close until Rory found his favorite spot on the Hoylake links – 16, 17 & 18. His birdie at 16 put him -17. One hand had a firm grip on the jug. Now he just had to get to the house.
Fortunately he did. In what was an extremely popular win with the patrons, there were several other subplots to this Open. By the time Rory striped his tee shot down the first fairway, Tiger was up, up and away, jetting back to the U.S. with his 69-77-73-75 total. Sixty-four year old Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson waxed him by five. So much for being ready to play.
Ernie Els four putted his first hole after ker-plunking a spectator. Some say it shook him up but this happens every tournament. The likable South African just may have not been ready to play. David Duval showed up again. He had plenty of time to work the broadcast on Saturday and Sunday after missing the cut with 73-79. Sir Nick, the man who never saw a mirror he didn’t like, suffered the same fate with 76-77. What if Fowler went all orange on Sunday? Maybe he could have matched his four under inward nine with a similar outward nine. Dustin Johnson continues to fall short on the putting surfaces after being in position to make a weekend run. Then of course there was the defending champion. Phil stumbled on day one bogeying 18 when others were routinely walking away with birdie. It was his third bogey over his final six holes.
The new champion perhaps signals a change in the professional game. I believe it needs one. After all, how many Tiger comebacks and evasive answers must we endure before we realize no one has ever played better golf at the turn of the century than Woods? But the past has passed. Ultimately, as it usually does (except in the case of Tom Watson), youth prevails. The young players today do not fear major champions. They’re looking to become one.
In a few weeks the season’s final major will unravel in steamy Louisville. McIlroy will be there. So will others who dot the top rankings in the game. Yet don’t be surprised if one player goes missing. Undoubtedly he claims he’d like to be a part of this year’s Ryder Cup squad, Tiger doesn’t want to be. To say anything else would be Un-American. At this stage in his life he is only concerned with majors as the clock ticks. Why share the glory with eleven others when you can hoist a trophy all by yourself?
I predict if his showing in Akron is inadequate he’ll shut it down for 2014. He needs a full year of majors to get back on track, especially with all the young guns looking to grab theirs. Since Rory decided to nix his tennis honey, it appears he’s a bit more focused on collecting future titles. While the R&A’s Peter Dawson introduced the young man as the “Champion Golfer of the Year”, he might very well be the champion golfer of the next several years.