New star McIlroy emerges in time for 2012 Open in SF 

This Open is closed, shut tight, impenetrably by the new genius of a golfer, Rory McIlroy. Record numbers, remarkable play. And now the focus shifts to the West, to San Francisco, to the Olympic Club, where America’s golfing championship will be on display next year.

We thought what Tiger Woods did at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open was unapproachable — 12-under par and a 15-shot margin. But this weekend, McIlroy not only approached, he obliterated.

In 111 years, there’s never been an Open so bewilderingly fantastic as this one in the suburbs of the Nation’s Capital.

A peerless 22-year-old, McIlroy was over par on only four of his 72 holes at Congressional Country Club, three bogies and a double-bogey, finishing with a preposterous 16-under-par total of 268 and an eight-shot edge.

What it means is golf may indeed have located the superstar to replace Tiger, although that is a matter to be decided as much by young McIlroy himself as the public.

What it means when the 2012 U.S. Open is held at Olympic along the Pacific Ocean is the little country of Northern Ireland, population 1.6 million, will be aiming for a third straight championship.

Last year at Pebble, it was Graeme McDowell who overtook Tiger and Phil and raised the trophy as the boys back in Belfast were raising their glasses. And now it is the links prodigy — who as a teenager used to study Woods’ many marks, McIlroy — roaring in to make it back-to-back triumphs.

The U.S. Open is supposed to be the hardest tournament in creation. Ben Hogan, at Olympic in 1955, was pictured slashing out of the rough on the left side of 18. And you remember Jack Nicklaus winning the 1972 Open at Pebble with a cumulative score of 2-over par.

But McIlroy sneered at tradition and laughed at the competition, if figuratively. He is the first golfer ever to break 200 for 54 holes, with a 199 that left him eight shots in front after Saturday’s round. He is the first to get as low as 13-under par. He is the youngest to win the Open in 88 years, since Bobby Jones at age 21 in 1923.

This success has been forecast for McIlroy, the kid with the shaggy hair from the Belfast suburb of Holywood — pronounced Hollywood — since he was chipping balls into his mother’s washing machine at age 4.

At 18 as an amateur, he shot 68 in the first round of the 2007 British Open. Last year, he had a 63 at St. Andrews in the Open. And this year, he led the Masters through three rounds until collapsing with an 80 the last day.

“He’s potentially the next Tiger Woods,” McDowell said of McIlroy. “He’s that good.”

Said Jack Nicklaus of McIlroy, “I like his moxie.”

Padraig Harrington, of the Republic of Ireland, a three-time major winner, suggested although McIlroy only has one victory, he, not Woods, could be the man to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins.

“If you’re going to talk about someone challenging Jack,” Har

ington said, “there’s your man.”

And next year, when McIlroy attempts to become the first golfer in 22 years to repeat as Open champ, Olympic is your course.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

2012 US Open

WHEN: June 14-17, 2012
WHERE: Olympic Club
HISTORY: The Olympic Club has hosted the U.S. Open four previous times (1998, 1987, 1966, 1955)
TICKETS: www.usga.org/tickets

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Art Spander

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