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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
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

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices