When Rory McIlroy is on song, he makes the infuriatingly tricky game of golf look ridiculously easy. And the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland was largely on song in 2012, winning his second major, the PGA Championship, by a whopping eight strokes, and doubling his number of career titles from five to 10.
That McIlroy is indisputably the number one golfer in the world is borne out by the ease with which he topped both the US PGA and European Tour money-lists this year, only the second golfer to achieve this daunting feat of trans-Atlantic dominance.
With the future of Tiger Woods still cloudy – he has not won a major since 2008 – McIlroy is poised to become the pre-eminent golfer of his era.
And while Woods bristles with indignation whenever it is suggested he has lost his aura, McIlroy has won many admirers for his warm smile on the course and his willingness to handle awkward questions ranging from his relationship with tennis star and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki to whether he will represent Northern Ireland or Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics.
It is a measure of McIlroy’s tremendous ability that several of the game’s greats are on alert for the kid from Holywood to start hauling in Woods’s haul of 14 major titles and even challenge the record of Jack Nicklaus (18).
“I think if anybody can break Nicklaus’s record, McIlroy could,” former world number one Greg Norman said.
“McIlroy is young, he is ahead of the game, he is ahead of the curve on a lot of things, and he has a very balanced life across the board. So I will keep my fingers crossed for him, because I would love to see that happen. Somebody will surpass Nicklaus’s majors record, and it could be Rory,” Norman said.
Even Woods himself has acknowledged McIlroy as his greatest rival.
“Rory is younger, so this is the next generation of guys… Rory is the head of the class of that by far. He’s had an amazing start to his career, winning two major championships and winning tournaments all around the world,” Woods said.
And in terms of his game, McIlroy has the ammunition to back up the rave reviews.
An easy swing still provides tremendous power and he ranked fifth in driving distance on the US PGA Tour this year. His short game is marked by a deft, imaginative touch and he is also hot with the putter.