James Lawton: McIlroy showed brilliance and beauty of Best – but is more likely to avoid pitfalls

It is to remind us of what can happen when a young sportsman refuses to believe that there is nothing he cannot achieve

There was always going to be an unswervable point of reference in all the beauty and the brilliance of Rory McIlroy's triumph.

It was, of course, Tiger Woods – a softer, more agreeable version, perhaps, but still a superb example of what can happen when wholly original talent is shaped by a most formidable will.

Yet if the linking of the achievements of a 21-year-old Woods, who ransacked the 1997 US Masters, and the record-shattering mark established by McIlroy at 22, in the most challenging of the majors, the US Open, at the Congressional Country Club, creates the possibility of one of sport's great dramas over the next few years, for some there must be another comparison running back much further in the sports blood of Northern Ireland.

For some, at least, McIlroy's stupendous feat in Maryland was a sublime provocation to journey back to the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon on the occasion of George Best's first assault on the consciousness of the world.

Back then, in 1966, Best was still in some ways like his compatriot McIlroy. He was largely innocent of the ways of the world. He lived in a council house in Chorlton-cum-Hardy and his first lunges at the dawning celebrity culture were so naïve that today they would have inspired a massive cringe amid the occupants of the fast lane.

McIlroy, supported by his family and such a warm, knowing friend as Graeme McDowell, the reigning US Open champion he so spectacularly usurped, is at the shortest odds to avoid the pitfalls of the essentially shy, handsome youth who returned from Lisbon wearing a sombrero and a label denoted by the Portuguese media – O Quinto Beatle – the Fifth Beatle.

However, for a little while at the weekend, they were inextricably linked in the minds of anyone who remembered the Best outpouring and saw in McIlroy's easy domination of all his rivals the same level of exuberant discovery that for a little while at least he was quite unmatchable by anyone who stood in his way.

Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby advised caution in the away leg of the European Cup quarter-final against Benfica. "Feel your way into the game," he said. "This is a brilliant, dangerous team and if we get carried away early, they will punish us for sure."

Best may or may not have been listening. In any case, he was about as cautious as a hungry wolverine. From the first whistle, he ran at Benfica with almost abandoned relish. He scored two goals and caused panic whenever he had the ball at his feet. United scored five and moved serenely into the semi-finals. In the dressing room, midfielder Pat Crerand said with heavy irony: "Isn't it a good job the kid listened to the Old Man?"

At Bethesda there could only be rejoicing that, 45 years after Best's supreme performance, Rory McIlroy was also so attuned to the inner voice which persuaded him that it was time to respond to all the promptings of his extraordinary talent to hit the golf ball with an ease that was so natural, so withering of all opponents, that some believed – a little unrealistically – that he would now be able to reproduce the scale of it whenever he walks on to a course.

It is, you have to believe, indeed a fanciful idea but it does nothing to relegate the significance of what he achieved over the last days – and that for as long as he plays golf he will create the possibilities of thrilling experience for all who watch him.

Translating this swiftly into a sure-fire challenge not only to the Tiger's 14 majors but the 18 of Jack Nicklaus is, plainly, a huge reach. It is to presume that McIlroy will sail serenely through the rest of his career, that the kind of pressures which gave a player as distinguished as Tom Watson the yips will never again touch the boy who died at Augusta and was resurrected in Bethesda.

It presumes that none of his rivals will ever feel the release and the magic of absolute confidence that came to him when he began to dismantle the US Open records or that there will not be some new young rivals even now dedicating themselves to the highest challenges of the sport.

There is another hasty projection. It is that at the age of 35 the time of the Tiger is over – that he will now always be marooned in his angst and his exhausted haul of majors.

It is a simplicity that maybe too readily dismisses the achievements of the man whose life crashed down so vertiginously when he drove into a fire hydrant. Woods has been chastised for a tardy reaction to McIlroy's sensational eruption but this is not something he is likely to dwell upon for too long. Not all of his memories of his own dramatic emergence are of the warmest variety. There were resentment and scepticism and soon enough he was obliged to apply the force not of his anger but the range of his talent and the intensity of his focus. He knows, better than anyone, the pressures that his young rival has drawn to himself.

Certainly, there is the possibility that the brilliance of McIlroy may provoke in Woods a new resolve to claim back at least some of his empire. If it is so, it is not the least of the young man's gift to golf. The ultimate one, though, is the one he shares with his tragic countryman George Best. It is to remind us of what can happen when a young sportsman believes that there is nothing he cannot achieve.

Haye, the undisputed world champion of rudeness

While it is true that David Haye's heavyweight credentials are excruciatingly feeble as they await examination in Hamburg next week by Wladimir Klitschko – the first and only authentic member of the division he is likely to face – there is no question about his chief distinction.

It is that in the impertinence department he won the pound-for-pound title some time ago.

Nothing came close, however, to the outrageousness of his latest declaration – the one that said, unlike the collision between the admittedly ageing Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in Memphis in 2002, there will be no contenders in Hamburg, just fully paid-up heavyweight champions.

In Memphis, the Lewis-Tyson fight was somewhat one-sided and most memorable for the courage with which Tyson – after the years of dissipation – took his beating.

There was also the discernible legacy of two of the most formidable heavyweights in the history of the old game.

Haye should venture into such hallowed places with extreme care – and at least a small degree of respect.

Villas-Boas doesn't know what he's letting himself in for

You might say a dream management team is taking shape at Stamford Bridge with Andre Villas-Boas, the 33-year-old wunderkind coach of Porto, about to take office, possibly under the guidance of one of the game's best, hardest-headed operators in prospective director of football Guus Hiddink.

On the other hand, you might also argue the moon is composed of Gruyère cheese.

The problem is that Chelsea under the ownership of Roman Abramovich have proved themselves ungovernable. Given the Russian's modus operandi, his disgraceful treatment of men like Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea are surely the very antithesis of what a brilliant young coach might reasonably award himself after some years of richly promising work. Still, there is always the money.

One problem is the idea that a director of football of Hiddink's stature, and independence of mind, might easily dovetail with a coach of such charisma and ambition. There is an old truth in football and it is underlined by the record of every club who have ever taken a sustained run at the highest levels of achievement. They have one source of delegated power and influence, and all else radiates from that.

Chelsea, with their warring dressing room and fading superstars, is the last place, surely, successfully to contradict a classic tradition.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention