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Can Rory steal Tiger's roar?

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Iain Carter | 09:03 UK time, Monday, 20 June 2011

By the end, we had run out of superlatives. It turned out to be a four-day hyperbole fest as we sought words to describe Rory McIlroy's record-breaking achievements at Congressional Country Club.

With every "sensational", "extraordinary" and "astonishing" that passed our lips, we witnessed a young golfer taking massive strides to fill the void that has existed at the top of the game of golf.

No-one had come close to occupying such elevated territory, for a long period the domain of Tiger Woods, until McIlroy's amazing US Open victory on Sunday.

But, while the Northern Irishman's golf was of the calibre of Woods in his prime, it would be wholly wrong to think of McIlroy as the next "Tiger".

The new champion is nothing of the sort.

Comparisons have inevitably been made between the two men because of the manner of McIlroy's triumph in the second major of the year.

The record score that gave him victory bears comparison with the way Woods annihilated the field at the 2000 US Open. The American won by 15 shots at Pebble Beach to claim his third major victory.

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From the moment McIlroy followed his opening 65 - his lowest round compiled in the toughest conditions of the week at Congressional - with a 66 to take a six-shot lead into the weekend, we knew we were witnessing something very special.

Indeed, the comparisons with Woods and his triumph at Pebble Beach were inevitable as soon as McIlroy posted that record-breaking halfway tally of 131. The boundless potential that had long since been recognised was now being realised.

Furthermore, it was being achieved with humility, charisma and charm, qualities emphasised by his dignified response to his Masters meltdown in the final round at Augusta after leading the first major of the year by four shots after 54 holes.

Everyone loves McIlroy - at least it seems that way. His appeal is global. Have we ever heard American crowds chant the name of an overseas challenger in the way that the galleries in Washington did over the final 36 holes?

This was an unprecedented outpouring of adulation for a foreigner they regard as one of their own. Why? Because their previous hero has fallen from his pedestal and there is no-one in the American game to take the place of Woods at the moment.

Of course, Phil Mickelson remains as popular as ever but there is little sign that he can quench the thirst for success demanded by US golf fans. America has now gone five majors without being able to celebrate a home win.

So who better to fill the current void than a fresh-faced youngster who readily smiles his way around the course, engages with supporters and speaks with honesty and élan when a microphone is thrust in his direction?

Oh, and it turns out that his golf is brilliant, too. And how we all love a winner.

How much American golf fans will see of him in the coming months is not certain, though. Having resigned PGA Tour membership this year, McIlroy is not expected to be a regular participant on the US circuit, although tournament organisers are sure to be throwing plenty of invites his way. Potentially, there are far-reaching implications as every promoter scrambles for his signature.

As a side issue, what chance of him competing at the Players' Championship next May? Skipping it this year clearly helped him stay fresh for the US Open. Could it be that the so called "fifth major" is without the game's newest and brightest star?

McIlroy's popularity spans the world. In Dubai, skyscraper hotels have been illuminated with his image during his US Open odyssey. Elsewhere in Asia, crowds flock to see him play. Then there is his home territory in Europe.

He will require extraordinary levels of management with all that awaits in the wake of this stunning victory.

McIlroy is famously level-headed, the son of hard-working parents who devoted their lives to developing his golfing career. Now he is a global superstar, although he will still look for a quiet - and sometimes not so quiet - pint with his mates in Belfast as well as a ticket to watch his beloved Ulster play rugby.

Without that side to his life, could he function as well as he does as a top golfer?

Despite his astonishing performance at such a tender age, I doubt whether McIlroy will surpass the golfing achievements of Woods. The 14-time major champion was a relentless winning machine. In contrast, the man from Holywood has different qualities and it is worth remembering that this US Open victory is only the third professional win.

In any case, we should not be putting pressure on him to overtake the landmarks of Woods or, for that matter, Jack Nicklaus, who tops the tree with his record haul of 18 majors.

Maybe a decade down the line McIlroy will have a cabinet full of major trophies. If that happens, then we can start thinking about him eclipsing Woods and Nicklaus. Right now, we should just delight in the manner of his win in the US Open win.

McIlroy has also risen to fourth in the world rankings. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer sit above him but they already know they have been overtaken.

When the world's best assemble for the next major, the Open at Sandwich in mid-July, it will be McIlroy who will be the main attraction - and that will be the case even if Woods returns from his latest injury setback.

It is hard not to get carried away by what we have witnessed over the last few days. On BBC Radio 5 live, expert summariser Jay Townsend called it the "greatest major championship performance we have ever seen". He might be right. He might be wrong. Still, it is a mighty fine debate.

The one thing I am sure of is that McIlroy is not the next Tiger. He is Rory McIlroy, the record-breaking US Open champion, a global superstar and just what golf needs.

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