Magic McIlroy fulfils major destiny
Rory McIlroy's coronation as a major champion was an "accident waiting to happen".
That's according to his good friend and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, the previous winner of the US Open.
The 22-year-old McIlroy clinched his maiden major title with a start-to-finish victory at Congressional that sent shivers down the spine of the golfing world.
McIlroy now has held at least a share of the lead after seven of his last eight major rounds and he has led at some stage in his last four majors.
But what made it all the more remarkable was that McIlroy was playing in his first major since his aberration at Augusta.
In April, he led the Masters for three rounds before blowing a four-shot lead heading in the final day, collapsing spectacularly with a final-round 80.
They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger but that's not always the case in sport. The line about learning lessons is always trotted out, but the mental baggage that accompanies near-misses must always be there in the background, ready to rear its ugly head should a similar situation arise.
McIlroy, though, did take the positives from Augusta and tacked them onto his natural game to dominate at Congressional in a manner not seen since Tiger Woods was in his pomp.
McIlroy won his first major title in his 10th major as a pro
Such was his preeminence, his post-Masters mettle was not tested to the full, but he shattered record after record during his relentless march to victory which should tell its own story.
According to McDowell, McIlroy has been headed for "superstardom" since he first picked up a club.
Born in Holywood, Northern Ireland in 1989, to mum Rosie and golf-mad dad Gerry, a two-handicapper, he hit a 40-yard drive at the age of two and fired his first hole in one in 1998.
Bitten by the golf bug, his working-class parents took multiple jobs and devoted their lives to ferrying young Rory, whose idol was Woods, to tournaments at home and abroad. He won the World Under-10 Championship in Doral, Florida, in 1998, beating 80 players from 24 countries.
Shortly after turning 16, he shot a course-record 61 at Royal Portrush and played in the European Masters as an amateur. The following year he became the European amateur champion and represented Ireland in the Amateur World Championship.
"I first heard about him when he shot that 61 at my home course," said McDowell.
"You hear rumours about people and good players come and go, but this kid was
something a bit special."
Already a star in amateur golf circles, it was in 2007 that McIlroy became known to the wider public. First, he made the cut in the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic - earning the status as the world's number one amateur - and then shot a first-round 68 in the Open Championship at Carnoustie, going onto tie for 42nd and won the Silver Medal for leading amateur.
McIlroy delayed his entry into the professional ranks to play in the Walker Cup for Great Britain and Ireland that September, and straight after turned pro, aged 18.
He made the cut in his first tournament, came third in his second and secured his playing card for 2008 with a fourth at the next.
By November 2008 he had become the youngest player ever to reach the world's top 50 and in February the next year he won his first pro tournament, the Dubai Desert Classic.
That prompted praise from Woods's great friend and mentor Mark O'Meara.
"Ball-striking wise at 19, he's probably better than what Tiger was at 19," said the American, the 1988 Masters and Open champion.
The following April McIlroy played in his first major, finishing 10th at the Masters, and in August he came third in the year's final major, the USPGA.
After finishing second to Lee Westwood in the European Tour rankings at the end of the year he entered the world's top 10 for the first time, only the second 20-year-old after Sergio Garcia to achieve the feat.
Expectation was high going into the 2010 Masters, but he missed the cut and slunk back home to Belfast to lick his wounds.
McIlroy came back firing, though, and shortly after won his first PGA Tour event in America, shooting a final-round 62 at Quail Hollow to become the first player since Tiger Woods to win on the US circuit before his 21st birthday.
At the Open in July, McIlroy gave a forewarning of what was to come, both the good and the bad. He shot a nine-under 63 in the first round at St Andrews but was blown off course by strong winds on day two, amassing an 80 before finishing 68, 69 to place third.
Another third followed in the USPGA at Whistling Straits in August and he headed to the Masters this year full of hope.
But one pulled tee shot on the 10th hole of that fateful final round prompted an implosion. Humbled, he earned worldwide plaudits for facing the media after the round. "It's only golf," he said. But the wider perspective masks a determination to be the
Plenty of players strive their whole careers to win just one major, but for McIlroy you suspect there are more where this came from.
McIlroy's Masters meltdown might have gone down in history, but the coronation at Congressional could become the stuff of legend.