The career rocket to which Rory McIlroy is strapped took him to No 2 in the world following his Open victory, though watching him claim a third major at 25 few would argue there is a better player in the golfing firmament than the Ulsterman.
The near-million banked at Hoylake also catapulted him to the top of the Race to Dubai and with the WGC Bridgestone Invitational next week feeding directly into the final major of the season, the PGA Championship, McIlroy threatens even more plunder.
This is the golfer Nike thought they were getting when they shelled out £75m for the association 19 months ago. They look to have stolen McIlroy now. He is one of only five men to have won a major before the age of 26, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods are the others. Only Nicklaus and Woods had three at his age.
McIlroy mania will be raging when he tees up in Ohio next week, and then at Valhalla. It will be off the scale at Augusta in April, where he goes in pursuit of the missing major, the Masters. Had he acquired the maturity three years ago that he showed in holding off the challenge of Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler at Royal Liverpool, the green jacket might have been the first item of major furniture in his locker.
That four-shot collapse on the final day in 2011 remains an epic feature of the McIlroy landscape. He wins and loses big. This is why we are drawn to him. The annus horribillis of 2013 is another example of the drama that comes with the territory. But when he climbs out of the holes he digs, he is a uniquely compelling customer. There is no finer sight in golf than McIlroy with the hammer down.
His victories at the 2011 US Open at Congressional and the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island were delivered by eight shots. At the Open he was required to defend a winning position that stood at six at the start of the final day and extended to seven after he birdied the first.
Garcia in the penultimate group came at him hard, twice closing to within two shots when the tension was at its height. His playing partner, Fowler, also began to exert pressure over the closing holes as Hoylake reverberated to birdie song, but McIlroy managed his business like the main man he has become, landing the counters when needed to claim the greatest prize in golf by two strokes.
The Claret Jug, coupled with the cumulative power of three, takes McIlroy into an entirely different dimension. Sir Nick Faldo is the most successful European of the modern era with six majors, one more than Ballesteros. Both dealt in jugs and jackets, but no European has held three different pots since the Masters rolled out in 1934.
So McIlroy is by glorious increments carving a historic place in the pantheon. He wouldn’t say no to a second PGA crown in Louisville next month but the Masters is the one he really, really wants to spice up his life, pun intended.
“Even though there’s still one major left this year that I want to desperately try to win, I am looking forward to next April and trying to complete the career Grand Slam. I’ve always been comfortable from tee to green at Augusta. It’s just taken me a few years to figure out the greens, where you need to miss it and some different little shots that you might need that week.
“What really helped me last year was playing with Jeff Knox in the third round. He was my amateur marker and he’s the best I’ve ever seen on Augusta’s greens. I might have to take a couple of trips up before the tournament next year and have a couple of practice rounds with him.”
Before that there is some celebrating to be done. The first snaps of liquid refreshment going into the Claret Jug are already circulating through the ether. McIlroy tweeted a picture with family and friends in the rented house on the Wirral with the jug taking centre stage.
There is no time like the first time, and no time limit on victory. McIlroy is and always will be an Open winner.Reuse content