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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

McIlroy serves notice on Open stage

OK, so we get the kid a decent haircut, because his mop is deeper and wilder than any U.S. Open rough. And we get him a real clothing deal, so he doesn't look like he just walked out in knock-offs. And we find him a good nickname. Tiger is taken.
Tiger ... you remember him, right? It was a mesmerizing sort of thing, what 22-year-old Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy did wire-to-wire at Congressional Country Club, the kind of record setting performance that made people everywhere keep invoking the word "Tiger-esque." 16-under par. Can a scorecard be drug tested? This Open was closed for business about as soon as McIlroy unleashed his first sweet swing. He turned golf's death march into the Quad Cities Open, or something you see out at Pirate's Cove, everything but one last putt through the bear's navel for a free game. For the record, he now trails Tiger by 13 majors and Jack Nicklaus by 17. Tiger was a few months younger when he first won a major, Jack was a few months older when he won his first. Just something to think about. Yes, Rory McIlroy has just three professional victories. But for a few days he reminded us exactly what Tiger once was -- and might never be again. Tiger? He has a messed up game, a messed up knee and a messed up personal life and image. And along comes Rory ... He was what Tiger was at Pebble Beach in 2000, when Woods turned everyone else into a spectator. At some point Sunday afternoon, people ran out of things to say about McIlroy. At one point, Johnny Miller, a U.S. Open champion-turned excellent broadcaster said of McIlroy, "He's playing good solid golf." Yeah. And Secretariat ran a good solid Belmont. This could be the one. We kept thinking that as McIlroy mowed down this Open. It was more remarkable because of how he'd finished his last major, that memorable implosion on Sunday afternoon at Augusta, his four-stroke Masters lead melting away in the blink of an eye with that shattering 80 -- and then he stood there and answered every question, every dagger. Tiger would never have put up with that, acted like that; too proud, too petulant, too arrogant. Not to say McIlroy doesn't look confident -- Nicklaus described him as "cocksure" on Sunday, but in a good way. People were still talking about his Augusta meltdown after the second round of the Open on Friday, and after the third round Saturday, and before the final round Sunday. And along come Rory ... Winning that first major, it matters - and it matters more when it comes early, as it did with Tiger, as it did with Nicklaus. That first major, it matters. And now Rory McIlroy matters. He is out of the box in stunning fashion. Maybe this is what it will take to kick Tiger back into gear. Eldrick, you've been warned. That goes for you, too, Jack.
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