To put it simply, golf is desperate for Tiger Woods. He is the single entity that has kept the sport afloat for the past decade. Without Tiger, golf would have faded entirely to the background of American culture. His mastery and personality captured the attention of the world and we couldn't help but pay attention to him and the sport he dominated like no other.
But then came his fall from grace.
Between the scandals and the many injuries that have kept him from his peak, Tiger has faded from the top of the world into the middle of the pack. Still an electrifying and polarizing figure in general, his lack of golf game recently has the sport scrambling for some sort of replacement to keep the eyes tuned in.
Enter Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy is golfs next young phenom, or at least that's what the sport would have you believe. At only 22, McIlroy has shown a golf mastery that has caught the attention of many, and with his record breaking performance at the US Open this past weekend, is at the point where he can make the attempt at filling Tigers shoes.
McIlroy was dominant start to finish in winning his first major. He held an 8 shot lead after 2 days and ended up with the best score (-16) ever recorded at this event. The win redeems an earlier meltdown 2 months ago that cost him the win at Augusta National. That loss was so brutal that many thought he wouldn't recover from it, but after this US Open victory, nobody is doubting anymore.
"I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly. I kept telling you guys that, and I don't know if you believed me or not. But here you go," McIlroy said, gesturing to the shiny prize on the table. "Nice to prove some people wrong."
So exactly how good was this kids performance this weekend?
Let's put it this way, his -16 for the event was not only good enough to win by 8 strokes but it was also better than the combined scores of the last 10 U.S. Open champions (-14).
Not too shabby.
"Nothing this kid does ever surprises me," defending US Champion Graeme McDowell said. "He's the best player I've ever seen. I didn't have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I've ever seen. Simple as that. He's great for golf. He's a breath of fresh air for the game, and perhaps we're ready for golf's next superstar.
"And maybe," he said, "Rory is it."
It's very easy to fall into the trap of naming this kid the nest Tiger Woods, heck, he's led in 7 of the past 8 days of the majors this year, but until he can show a little more, maybe we should just hold off a bit. The kid is good, no question, and he is poised to be the next big thing, but let's not forget that the real tiger is only in his 30's and has a shot at returning to the top.
Of course, he'll have to go through McIlroy to get there, which is exactly how we would want it.