McIlroy roars but he’s not Tiger yet


I have a little confession to make. We in the press box love to label rising stars as ‘the next big thing’. It’s not a bad habit. At heart, we are exactly the same as the man on the street. Ultimately, we have no say on what goes on out on the pitch, or on the court and around the course. We watch as the fan does in amazement – sometimes in utter horror as well – at the spectacle of sport. Of course, we do our utmost best to remain objective and do justice to whichever sport we have been assigned, but in a lot of ways we’re in the same boat as the fans – we’re here for whatever ride the athlete takes us on. And in 2012, what a ride Rory McIlroy took golf on. Many, mostly in the European time zone, have been quick to label McIlroy as ‘the next Tiger Woods’. I hope I can be forgiven if I take a more conservative approach. For me, that’s a massive statement to compare McIlroy to Woods as Tiger is in my opinion the greatest to have played the game so far – even if he remains four majors short of Jack Nicklaus’s 18 titles. Admittedly, my dismissal of Nicklaus in favour of Woods as the most accomplished golfer of all-time is a bold statement too.
Player Age Year Major
Woods 21 1997 Masters
Woods 23 1999 USPGA
Woods 24 2000 US-British Open / USPGA
Woods 25 2001 Masters
Woods 26 2002 Masters / US Open
Woods 29 2005 Masters / British Open
Woods 30 2006 British Open / USPGA
Woods 31 2007 USPGA
Woods 31 2008 US Open
I would think most people would understand my choice of Woods over Nicklaus, even though it’s based on gut-feel rather than something much more logical like maths – the numbers (Nicklaus 18 majors; Woods 14 majors) certainly do not support my pro-Woods argument. And after having said all of that, my next duty is to declare that it is far too early to say McIlroy is ‘the next Woods’.
Player Age Year Major
Nicklaus 22 1962 US Open
Nicklaus 23 1963 Masters / USPGA
Nicklaus 25 1965 Masters
Nicklaus 26 1966 Masters / British Open
Nicklaus 27 1967 US Open
Nicklaus 30 1970 British Open
Nicklaus 31 1971 USPGA
Nicklaus 32 1972 Masters / US Open
Nicklaus 33 1973 USPGA
Nicklaus 35 1975 Masters / USPGA
Nicklaus 38 1978 British Open
Nicklaus 40 1980 US Open / USPGA
Nicklaus 46 1986 Masters
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman’s numbers just don’t jump out at me in a Woods sort of way, yet. This season, McIlroy was golf’s undisputed world number one as he won the USPGA Championship – his second major – by a runaway eight-shot margin, won four other tournaments and topped the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. That’s four tournament wins and a major. A brilliant mark in McIlroy’s rapidly rising career, but let’s be honest that used to be a normal season for Woods. McIlroy impressed with his consistency by topping the money lists on both tours, but he also missed five cuts this year. It took Woods over a decade on the PGA Tour before he missed the same number of cuts. Yes, McIlroy brilliant; but not as close to being on par with Woods at the moment as some might have you believe.
Player Age Year Major
McIlroy 22 2011 US Open
McIlroy 23 2012 USPGA
In fact, everyone has some way to matching Woods’ best ever season. This came in 2000 when the American won 10 titles including three straight majors.