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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence