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
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine