Right now, as the summer enters its dog days, spring is the farthest thing from our collective mind. But yesterday, after shooting a final-round 1-under par 71 to win the 143rd Open Championship, Rory McIlroy forced us to look ahead 262 days from now to the first major championship of 2015 where he will be gunning for the fourth and final leg of the career grand slam.
He’ll still be 25 years old.
The fat-faced kid from Northern Ireland with curls bursting from his hat has transformed into a lean, shorn three-time major champion. His most recent coronation as the “next best thing” was the fulfillment of prophecy and confirmation of his all-around game.
Winning the Open Championship — ironically for a lad growing up on the wind-swept shores of Northern Ireland — seemed to be the major championship that would give his truly Americanized style of play the most trouble. A high-ball hitter, McIlroy even questioned his ability to win the championship as recently as 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s.
Q. If you’re going to contend in this championship you’re going to have to deal with the weather.
RORY McILROY: It’s either that or just wait for a year when the weather is nice.
No, I mean, my game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don’t enjoy playing in really. That’s the bottom line. I’d rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.
And when asked if he’s capable of changing his game for the possible weather at the Opens, ie strong winds that would make him lower his ball-flight, McIlroy continued:
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I can. It’s just being comfortable doing that, and there’s no point in changing your game for one week a year.
It should be noted that McIlroy’s Sergio-esque comments came after a 7-over par weekend that left him 12 shots off of countryman Darren Clarke’s winning score.
But to be sure, McIlroy didn’t get the Open simply on a week that the Open was ripe for the getting. By his own (and others) admission, McIlroy did receive the favorable side of the draw going out early-late on Thursday and Friday, but his first 36 holes and the whole of the weekend was played in typically sketchy British weather.
“And tell anyone who says Rory McIlroy won on a soft golf course that while the greens were holding Sunday, this was genuine links golf with enough wind, challenge and quirk to amount to a stunning breakthrough for the Northern Irishman,” Geoff Shackelford opined in the immediate aftermath of the event.
Now, even with the PGA Championship taking place in just three weeks time at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., the most anticipated major championship is once again the Masters. The overwhelming majority of pundits and players alike believe that the career grand slam for McIlroy is not a question of if he can accomplish it, but when.
Already haven proven he can play the Georgia Jewel expertly over his career, that same high, right-to-left ball flight that was thought to be curse at the Open is tailor made for Augusta National in the same way that Bubba Watson’s high, left-to-right fade works for the lefthander so beautifully. Rising to No. 2 in Official World Golf Ranking, McIlroy will be in the hunt to overtake Adam Scott when the pair tee it up in Akron in two weeks as well as the following week at the PGA Championship.
McIlroy’s two-stroke victory was closer on the leaderboard than perhaps it felt to him and his chasers. Leading by six shots entering Sunday, McIlroy seemingly had to shoot anything under par to guarantee victory.
His closest pursuers, and the pair who would prove to be the only real threats to his first Claret Jug, were Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia. Garcia put the early pressure on McIlroy going out in 3-under par 32 and then eagling the par-5 10th hole just ahead of Fowler and McIlroy to pull within two of the lead.
A McIlroy birdie at the same hole opened the lead back up to three and a costly bogey at the 15th caused by leaving a greenside bunker shot in the sand eliminated Garcia from any real shot at claiming his first major championship.
Fowler equaled Garcia’s 15-under par total thanks in the most part to a too-little-too-late charge over the last four holes that while it made him a good more chunk of change, it didn’t rustle McIlroy’s mettle.
Both the 25-year old American and the 34-year old Spaniard shared the runner-up spotlight and the accompanying dinner trays, but more importantly, both showed that there is an even deeper talent pool that will likely continue to vie for major championships outside of the usual suspects of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
The new guard has been here for a while now and it only continues to grow deeper. What this means for McIlroy’s dominance remains to be seen, but to think that in perhaps some of the deepest fields in the history of the game that McIlroy has won by eight strokes twice and went relatively unchallenged in another is a scary proposition for those fields.
Just scraping the surface with the top-3 finishers today. I’ll get to some other’s later this week as we have the shortest rest period between major championships.
I’ll leave you with a few videos to get you through your Monday, beginning with Rory McIlroy’s interview with Golf Channel.
And a quick reminder of why Ivor Robson is the best.