KIAWAH ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA | Say what you will about being young and wealthy with a hot, A-list girlfriend. Massive life, if that’s what flies your jet.
On the other hand, the joyful, warm-hearted embrace between a father and son that spills a few tears and comes after the tension breaks on the final hole at a major championship cannot be bought with any currency, especially when the first came a year ago on Father’s Day. And now, the second, on a sultry Sunday afternoon in August. It’s no holiday, but it might as well be.
Winning major championships and falling into the arms of your father has no equal and Rory McIlroy now has two of those irreplaceable experiences at the barely drinking age of 23. You can bet some champagne, expensive stuff at that, will be poured in and drunk out of the Wanamaker Trophy, the hardware that comes with winning the PGA Championship, by both father and son and whoever else happens to be around.
McIlroy is now faster to two majors than even creaky old Tiger Woods, who has 14 in his pocket. In fact, McIlroy has won two of the past seven majors and Woods, the semi-greatest player who ever lived, has been shut out since 2008.
Brilliance beats a bad haircut (are you watching, Rickie Fowler?). McIlroy is back in his rightful place as the No. 1 player in the world because he has proved it beyond reason and there should be no argument at all.
He was nothing short of magnificent at the PGA Championship, held at one of the sternest tests the year’s final major has seen, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. He took over the tournament on Saturday afternoon, gripped it tightly and allowed no one closer than two shots during the back nine of the final round, finally winning by eight. Which is no coincidence since his first major, the 2011 U.S. Open, he won by eight, numbers that are quite Tiger-like.
McIlroy is clearly the best player in the world, no matter what anybody says, including those misguided talking heads you see and hear on television, who still believe Woods is still No. 1, no matter what the record says.
McIlroy has the best swing, the most talent and the best attitude of anybody in the game. He is much longer off the tee than you might think – he’s consistently in the top five longest in the game – and he can chip and putt like a 16-year-old, which is to say he still believes he can make everything he stands over, which he practically did at the Ocean Course.
He has admitted on an occasion or two that in the midst of a very brief slump, his heart and mind might have been elsewhere, as in where companion Caroline Wozniacki might have been at the time.
Write that off to young love, if you must – and you must – and to the inexperience of a precocious young man not yet very wise in the ways of championship golf.
“It took me all of four weeks to get my game back together and to get over my mini-slump,” McIlroy said to his critics.
At The Ocean Course, McIlroy was laser-like in his focus. He took hold of the championship on Saturday but made it his own on Sunday. In the final round, McIlroy mistakenly laid up into a stand of trees to the left of the par-5 second hole and got it up and down from 98 yards from pine bark for birdie.
At the par-4 third, where he plugged a ball into the limb of a dead tree and got up and down for par on Saturday, he played wide of the dead tree and made another Sunday birdie, which gave him a five-shot lead right out of the gate. From that moment, the championship was over.
He waltzed in through the wickedly treacherous back nine at the Ocean Course, making a dramatic birdie at the last for a 66 to go with 67 in the third round that carried over from Saturday evening into Sunday morning. His weekend performance was far and away the best of a deep and talented field.
“I think I made it clear that I wasn’t happy with my performance in majors since I won the U.S. Open,” McIlroy said. “When I give myself a chance to win a big tournament, I can draw on what happened at Augusta, Congressional and now the PGA.”
McIlroy now is being mentioned in the same breath as that Woods fellow, as to what kind of career we will all be witness to in the coming years. “Tiger went on that tremendous run in 2000 and 2001,” McIlroy said. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
Some have other thoughts. “You know, I said two years ago, when he lost at The Masters, that he could challenge Jack’s record,” said Padraig Harrington, who has three majors on his résumé. “And now he’s won one each of the last two years.”
In the glow of glorious victory, McIlroy couldn’t help but be constantly glancing up at the trophy. “It’s an incredible feeling to see this trophy and call myself a multiple-major champion,” he said.
And he embraced the moment in a way few people know.