McIlroy the freckled face of world game
In any other year we would be extolling the virtues of Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey for their European Tour victories and basking in the glory of the most successful event in the history of the circuit following the triumphant return of a sell-out Irish Open to Royal Portrush.
It was a year that brought Irish golf more glory on the amateur scene with Rathmore’s Alan Dunbar becoming the seventh player from these shores to win the British Amateur Championship following his nerve-tingling one-hole win over Austria’s Matthias Schwab at Royal Troon.
We could highlight Graeme McDowell’s close calls in the Majors and his return to the winner’s circle after a two-year absence thanks to his win in Tiger Woods’ end-of-season World Challenge in California earlier this month.
We could point to the tentative revival in Pádraig Harrington’s fortunes with his top-10 finishes in the Masters and the US Open and his subsequent victory in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda.
Yet the 2012 season had just one face, not just for Irish golf but for the world game: Rory McIlroy.
The freckled-faced 23-year-old from Co Down ended the year with the biggest lead at the top of the world rankings since Woods in 2009 following a season of unrivalled brilliance, highlighted by his eight-stroke victory in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in August.
McIlroy’s second Major championship victory was just one of a host of brilliant achievements that led to him being recognised with virtually every major award including the PGA Tour and European Tour Player of the Year prizes.
What is even more remarkable about his year is that even though he won five times, to repeat Luke Donald’s feat of capturing the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic, his mid-season mini slump and failure to contend in the other three Majors would suggest that he has only scratched the surface of his true potential.
In common with the performances of Portugal Masters winner Lowry, Hassan II Trophy champion Hoey and those of McDowell and Harrington in the Majors, McIlroy’s performances have led Irish observers to look forward to 2013 with more hope than ever.
In McIlroy’s case, those who sniggered at Harrington’s suggestion, following that maiden eight-stroke victory in last year’s US Open, that we were looking at a player capable of challenging Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major titles have now changed their tune.
Former world number one Greg Norman said recently that McIlroy, not Woods, is the man most likely to threaten the Golden Bear’s milestone.
McIlroy, understandably, is playing down the hype though he is easily the game’s biggest attraction having secured the biggest contract in the history of the sport with what is believed to be a $250m move to take over from Woods as the face of Nike next year.