As the media is apt to do these days, they are anxious to crown the next greatest player in the world and it has been apparent for a while that young Rory McIlroy was most likely to fit that bill. After a major disappointment in the final round of The Masters last year, Rory, at the tender age of 22, came back to lap the field and win his first major by eight shots at Congressional at U.S. Open in June. With a crowd of Europeans at the top of their games challenging Luke Donald’s hold on the top position, it just seemed like a matter of time until Rory broke free from the pack and claimed the #1 spot in the World Golf Rankings.
His play the last 8 months has been phenomenal as he has methodically built his resume as one of the most competitive forces in the game of golf. On the European Tour in 2011 he had 2 wins, 2 seconds, 3 thirds, and 12 top tens out of 19 events winning over 4 million Euros and finished second in their Order of Merit. In his last 11 events he has been fifth or better 10 times. Last week at the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play he won a heart stopping match against his British rival Lee Westwood in the semis before losing in the final to Hunter Mahan and missing his chance to claim the world number one.
With this week’s Honda Classic he once again had the opportunity to claim that top spot if he could pull off a win against a tough field on one of the most penal courses they play all year. His play all week was on form and he came into the final round with a two shot lead and a simple mission-make pars and make someone come from behind and catch him.
As is only fitting it was Tiger Woods who made the noise, coming from miles back in the final round shooting an 8-under 62 with a statement birdie-eagle finish to post 10 under and become the leader in the clubhouse. When the Tiger roar subsided, McIlroy stood on the 14th tee with a two shot lead facing a formidable five hole stretch which includes the fabled “Bear Trap” that has doused the dreams of many would-be champions over the years.
Rory played the final five holes with the patience and resolve of a seasoned veteran getting up and down for par three times from more than a bit of bother. His short game has been his salvation all week, leading the field in scrambling at 83% with 20 out of 24 up and downs when he has missed the green. Today in particular he did not miss a single putt inside of 10 feet. A routine par on the last hole gave him a two-shot victory at 12 under par and moved him to the top spot in the World Golf Rankings.
The next two months include a World Golf Championship at Doral, Arnie’s Event at Bay Hill, The Masters, Jack’s Memorial Tournament, and The Players Championship against all the top players in the game. Rory will have his work cut out for him trying to consolidate his grip on the top spot. Given his resolve and performance since last April’s Master’s meltdown I think there is a good chance he will weather that storm.