McIlroy poised to claim his throne

Rory takes two-shot lead into final round of Honda Classic with world No 1 spot the reward for victory

palm beach gardens

If today is remembered as the day when the prince finally became the king, then it may also be claimed that this was the day when the boy became a man. In striding to the Honda Classic lead, Rory McIlroy revealed the maturity which could well be the finishing piece in a quite glorious golfing jigsaw.

Two clear of Harris English and Tom Gillis on 11-under, McIlroy is but 18 holes away from becoming the second youngest world No 1 in the history of the rankings. For the second Sunday is succession the 22-year-old is an overwhelming favourite to achieve the victory which would close Luke Donald's spell at the top. Donald's 10-month reign is an impressive length of time in a clearly transitional period in the world order. Yet only the fools would doubt that for McIlroy the sobriquet of "the best" could last a lot longer than that.

Maybe his graduation is most easily summed up in his performance here at the "Bear Trap", the four-hole finale which stands next to any in the demanding stakes. The three previous times he has played the PGA National he was 16-over for the stretch. This week he happens to be six-under, his third birdie in a row on the 18th added the padding to the cushion.

The sceptics will wait to see how his nerve holds today, with high winds predicted and with the Bear snarling, before anointing him. But they would surely be only quibbling with the "when" and not the "if".

As it was, with 30mph gusts this was a severe test yesterday, but with a 66 McIlroy skipped the field. After his defeat in last week's final of the World Match Play, the pressure will be fierce on him to go one better. "I didn't have a two-up lead going in against Hunter [Mahan]," he said. "Maybe I thought about it too much, used it as too much of a motivation. I definitely feel I have to put it out of my mind this time. It might be difficult, it might creep in, but I just have to think about winning the Honda Classic. If I start thinking about what it would mean then I haven't stayed in the moment and I haven't stayed focused. That's what I have to do."

With Tiger Woods out of the equation, down in a tie for 18th, and nine behind, the Florida crowd is ready for some Rory-mania. This is a regular PGA Tour event but the atmosphere has put many majors to shame. The beer is flowing and the wisecracks are following. "It's unbelievable out there," said McIlroy. "Some guy asked me what shampoo I used on the 17th. I enjoy playing in front of galleries like that. I think golf could do with some more of that."

Golf is destined to get so much more of McIlroy. The point is, few out here don't believe he is the best in the world already. English certainly does and as he is also 22, his admiration is notable. The former Walker Cup player, who has been a pro for less than a year, is clearly one for the future. But the young Americam looks at the impending coronation of a contemporary and seems almost resigned.

"Rory's awesome," said English after his own 66. "He's the same age as me, but I've never played with him. To me, he's the best player in the world. It's going to be a thrill playing with him."

The wonderfully named Dicky Pride partnered McIlroy yesterday and the veteran would have confirmed to English what a treat he had in store. "It's real obvious why he won the US Open," said Pride, beaten by five with a 71. "He hits it long, he hits it straight, he hits it so well. Rory just seems so unflappable. To think, I won my first tournament when Rory was only five. There's no doubt about it, he's a sexy beast."

Sexy, indeed. If only Woods could have been so gracious. After a 69, Tiger, who was the youngest to reach No 1 – as a 21-year-old – was asked what he thought of McIlroy. "I played with him at Abu Dhabi in the first two days and he's developed a lot but he's still learning," said Woods. When told Woods's thoughts, McIlroy said: "You can always improve, but at the moment I feel like most aspects of my game are pretty good. I'm striking the ball well, my short game is sharp and mentally I feel good." As evidence he could have evoked the two tremendous par saves on the 13th and 14th. Here is a boy who is thinking about putting the ball in the hole and not about improving.

Padraig Harrington, as is his way, neatly encapsulated the thoughts of the majority in his assessment of the scale of the feat. "It would be a great achievement to get to No 1 anyway, regardless of his age," said Harrington, 11 behind after a 74. "But with his age, it adds something else to it. Phenomenal is probably the word."

McIlroy's great friend Graeme McDowell concurred. "This is only the beginning for this guy," said McDowell, who birdied his last two holes for a one-under 69 that left him tied for 10th on four under par. "I expect to win more majors but I know Rory McIlroy will win more majors. That's the difference."

Suggested Topics
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
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

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links