There’s always someone emphasizing the negative, someone reluctant to acknowledge success, someone who looks at what Rory McIlroy did in last year’s U.S. Open, lapping the field as it were, and suggests the course wasn’t that difficult or the other golfers went about things improperly.
Who cares? Maybe Congressional Country Club outside Washington, D.C., was too wet and too wide to provide a perfect Open test. Maybe the rest of the pros didn’t bring their games. McIlroy, then a 22-year-old, brought a game both remarkable and record-setting.
He shot every round in the 60s for a 16-under total of 268, four lower than the previous mark.
“An accident waiting to happen,” Graeme McDowell, winner of the 2010 Open at Pebble Beach and McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman, said of the young man. “Nothing this kid does surprises me.”
What would surprise, however, would be for McIlroy to win the 2012 Open at Olympic. Only one player in the past 60 years, Curtis Strange in 1988 and ’89, has repeated as champion.
Alluding to the man who did it previously, Ben Hogan in 1950 and ’51, Strange walked into the interview room at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., and chortled, “Move over, Ben.”
McIlroy doesn’t have to move for anybody. His place is established. “It makes people view you a little differently,” McIlroy remarked of his win. “Maybe it gives you a little more respect. You’re sort of part of the club.”
Along with Johnny Miller, who is part of the club literally, an Olympic member since the 1960s when he was given special entry as a junior, and symbolically, Miller taking the Open in 1973 at Oakmont.
“Rory hits a lot of balls,” Miller, the tough commentator on NBC’s golf telecasts, said about McIlroy becoming dominant. “What you don’t see is that the fire is there to sort of determine who he is and his self-worth by championships.”
Miller admits he didn’t have that fire. McIlroy, who came back with the Open victory two months after a final-round meltdown in the 2011 Masters, contends he does. A missed cut — and he’s missed the cut in three straight tournaments entering this weekend — sends him intently to the practice tee.
“I might have taken my eye off the ball a little bit,” McIlroy said, referring to the distractions that arise after a victory. “Maybe I just haven’t practiced as hard as I might have been.”
It was after a win at the Honda Classic in March that McIlroy became the 16th player and the second youngest behind Tiger Woods to ascend to No. 1 in the world rankings.
When Luke Donald won the BMW, he once more moved ahead of McIlroy, the sixth change in 12 weeks in rankings as unstable as the land above the San Andreas fault, which runs under Olympic’s first and second holes.
McIlroy, brilliant even before his teenage years, has learned to deal with celebrity from another angle. He has been dating the Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, who like Rory was No. 1, but slipped from the top.
Wozniacki’s been hot, on the court and in photos. But she’s never had a bobblehead doll in her likeness, as will McIlroy, to be honored on Irish Night before Tuesday’s Giants game at AT&T Park.
A look at some of the impressive marks set by Rory McIlroy at last year’s U.S. Open:
- At 22, became the youngest U.S. Open champion in nearly a century
- Set record for lowest 72-hole score (268)
- Set record for most strokes under par (16-under)
- Set record for lowest score through first 54 holes (199)
- First player to win U.S. Open with all four rounds in the 60s since Lee Janzen in 1993