Golf Sport

McIlroy … better than Woods?

Written by Ben Blaschke

If there is one thing we’ve learn from Rory McIlroy of late, it’s that he is just about impossible to beat when at his very best. Having overcome a near crippling form slump in early 2013 and regained full focus on his golf game after ending his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki in May, the Northern Irishman has been on a hot streak over the past few months – winning the British Open Championship, backing up to claim his first ever WGC tournament at the Bridgestone Invitational then making it three tournament wins from three starts and four career majors with victory at the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

He was already in elite company alongside only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods when he won his third major by the age of 25, so to make it four just a few weeks over was a truly stunning achievement.

But it also suggests the very real possibility that the man to break Nicklaus’ long-standing record of 18 career majors might be broken not by Woods – who for so long looked set to go down as the greatest of all time – but by McIlroy instead.

We’ve already examined Woods’ decline in our recent article Is Tiger Woods a Spent Force? in which we observe that, six years after he won his last major, the American may well struggle to move past 14. Given his withdrawal from the Bridgestone Invitational in the final round after his back seized up again and his shocking performance at Valhalla, there must even be doubt over whether his body will allow him to compete at a top class level ever again.

The bigger question, though, is how far McIlroy can go in pursuit of the crown. Woods was a year younger than the Northern Irishman when he won his fourth major (and his fifth) and had made it six by the same stage McIlroy is at now.

But having cruised to his 14th major when he secured victory at the 2008 US Open – breaking record after record along the way – Woods’ career suddenly hit a brick wall that nobody saw coming. Injuries, a high profile marriage breakdown and an inability to regain his form of old have combined to seemingly end his quest to move past Nicklaus.

Of course, the same thing could happen to McIlroy, but assuming it doesn’t that leaves a good 15 years at the very least for him to mount a challenge at the majors each year. He would equal Woods by winning two every three years over that time which given he has won two in 2014 alone doesn’t seem too big of a stretch. Increase that strike rate just a little and Nicklaus suddenly comes into the equation.

The important aspect of McIlroy’s game to make note of is not just that he is winning majors but how dominant he has been in most of them – a lot like Woods in his prime.

His breakthrough win at the 2011 US Open saw him win by a whopping eight shots and set a new record for the lowest aggregate score at the tournament. A year later he added the PGA to his resume and again did so by eight strokes – beating the previous record of seven held by Nicklaus.

At the Open Championship earlier this year he managed the rare feat of leading from post to post and cruised to a two-shot victory after leading by six heading into the final round. Only at the PGA Championship did he have to overcome a deficit during the final round to secure the win.

It is those sorts of performances that suggest McIlroy not only has many more major wins in his grasp, but could in fact finish his career with the once unimaginable record of having won more than the great Tiger Woods. Who would have thought?