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Commentary: Golf world ready for new face

Courtesy Doug Kapustin / MCT

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Rory McIlroy did more than finish out a dominating US Open performance last Sunday in Bethesda, Md.; he finished golf’s search for its next superstar. The 22-year-old rocked the golf world last week with his 72-hole score of 16-under par, eight shots better than runner-up Jason Day.

The win couldn’t have come at a better time for the young Irishman. McIlroy blew a 4-stroke lead at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., last month after leading the field for the first three rounds. He posted a final round 8-over-par 80 to fall out of the top-10.

After turning pro in 2007 at the age of 18, McIlroy had posted three top-3 finishes in major tournaments before adding the US Open Championship to the list.

It is no coincidence that McIlroy has climbed to the No. 4 spot in golf’s world rankings as he is the youngest player to win a Major since Scotland native Tom Morris won the British Open in 1868 at the age of 17. But no one is comparing McIlroy to Tom Morris.

McIlroy’s recent success has instead been drawing comparisons to the likes of some of golf’s greatest players, such as Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and at the ripe age of 22 years, they are well-deserved.

His win on Sunday brings back memories of Woods’ 12-stroke win at the 1997 Masters. The then-25-year-old Woods’ dominating performance catapulted his career and quickly made him the face of the golfing world.

But Woods took a break from the PGA Tour in 2009 after a knee injury forced him to put a hold on his golfing career. After his personal issues forced him to continue his lockout from golf, the Tour was left with a handful of mediocre golfers who could not fill Tiger’s shoes.

Golf became faceless. Ratings plummeted and major companies withdrew their tournament sponsorships. Even Jack Nicklaus’ once prestigious Memorial Tournament has begun to lack its luster, drawing slim and unenthusiastic crowds. And just as we began to get used to a world without Tiger and no-name tournament winners, Rory McIlroy appeared.

As McIlroy tore through the back nine at Congressional Country Club last Sunday, many were waiting for him to fall apart. But that never happened. From tee to green, McIlroy exemplified the poise and precision of a Tiger-Woods Sunday charge.

From hole-to-hole his confidence never left him, and as his final putt found the bottom of the cup, McIlroy wasn’t the only one who came out on top—golf won too.

Golf’s future is now resting steadily on the shoulders of young players like McIlroy, and although he might not have the same fist-pumping enthusiasm as a guy named Tiger, an 8-stroke win in any tournament is sending a message:

A changing of the guard has arrived. Rory McIlroy is here to stay.

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