Rory McIlroy at ease in role as dominant force
USPGA champion expects to play – and embrace – the role of leader at Ryder Cup
Rory McIlroy reacts after winning the 96th US PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph: EPA
Northern Ireland Rory McIlroy reacts after winning the 96th PGA Championship golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph: EPA
In the darkness of Sunday night, after fulfilling the rituals that behold champions in signing flags and undergoing a stream of media commitments, Rory McIlroy – and his team – left Valhalla Golf Club and walked the 20 steps to the Mercedes SUV that would take them to the airport and onwards to New York for a few days of deserved celebrations.
Across the way, barely five yards away, the car space reserved for Tiger Woods was vacant, as it had been since Friday when the 14-times Major missed the cut. Somehow, though, as the last player to leave the premises again at a Major, the entire scene reaffirmed – if it were needed – that a changing of the guard has taken place. These days, McIlroy is top of the heap.
McIlroy’s rise to the top has been quite awesome these past number of weeks and months. In adding the US PGA title to the British Open of last month, the 25-year-old became the first player since Pádraig Harrington in 2008 to win back-to-back Majors; he became the third youngest, of the modern era since 1934, to win four Majors; and he jumped to the top of the US Tour’s FedEx Cup standings heading into the play-offs.
If the few days break in the Big Apple – before bringing the Claret Jug to Old Trafford this weekend for Manchester United’s opening league match of the season – will bring some relief from the intensity of playing down the stretch, the respite will be short.
For McIlroy is heading into an extremely busy stretch, returning to action in next week’s Barclays Championship – the first of four playoff tournaments that finish with the Tour Championship in Atlanta – and, then, there is the little matter of the Ryder Cup next month.
The days when McIlroy referred to that biennial match as an exhibition are long gone. And, as he has evolved as a player, so too has his status to the point that he expects to play – and embrace – the role of leader in Gleneagles. “I’m not one of the most experienced guys but I am going to have to be a talisman and going to have to drive us forward. I’m going to have to accept that responsibility.”
Is he comfortable with such a role? “Of course I’m comfortable with it. The first two Ryder Cups maybe I felt a little out of place to put my hand up and offer my opinion. Like, who am I? But, now, I’ve experienced a couple and am in a place in the game that warrants I can lead the team, so it is a good place to be in.”
Grand ambitionsYet, that Ryder Cup is only one of a long list of goals that McIlroy – who is also a runaway leader on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings – has in his head.
The Northern Irishman has moved into even more distinguished company in claiming a fourth career Major and, in admitting “there’s a lot of goals on the horizon, I’m just trying to take it one step at a time,” one of his stated ambitions is to become the greatest European player of all time.
On that front, Nick Faldo – who has six career Majors – leads the way, but McIlroy has won his four (the 2011 US Open, the 2012 US PGA, the 2014 British Open and the 2014 USPGA) in faster time and, where Faldo’s were spread between the British and the Masters, McIlroy has won three different Majors, the Masters being the only one absent.