Rory McIlroy is now one of golf's giants. We can't believe it either, but here we are. This 25-year-old kid, who arrived in this world right about the same time as the third Indiana Jones movie, is officially, certifiably, indisputably a legend.
McIlroy won the Open Championship on Sunday with only the briefest of hiccups. He was paired with Rickie Fowler, playing one pairing behind Sergio Garcia, and both of them veered within two strokes of McIlroy at two points in the afternoon. But McIlroy responded to the challenge with smooth drives straight enough to fire through a keyhole.
When he's playing well, as he did on Saturday afternoon, McIlroy struts. It's more king-of-the-playground than king-of-the-world, really, because of everything that Rory can do on a golf course, scaring you isn't one of them. He's not a Tiger Woods circa 2000, chasing you down, running you over, and then reversing gears a couple times to make sure those tire tracks are embedded. No, McIlroy's game has only two settings: inconsistency and perfection.
When McIlroy is on, as he has been in each of his three major wins, he's as good as anyone who's ever played the game. That's not hyperbole, that's fact. He holds the record for lowest score to par at a U.S. Open, and now he's won the British at 17-under – just two strokes off Tiger Woods' record at an Open.
Consider where the kid stands now in golf history. He's won three of the four jewels of the Grand Slam faster than anyone in the Masters era save Woods and Jack Nicklaus. You don't luck your way into three very different majors. That's skill, grace, and once-in-a-generation talent.
He's now got the rest of his career to do something that only five players — Nicklaus, Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen — have done: complete the career grand slam. Arnold Palmer never completed the career Slam. Neither did Sam Snead, or Tom Watson, or Phil Mickelson (yet). But here's McIlroy with a good quarter-century to win just once at Augusta ... a place, don't forget, where he very nearly won in 2011 were it not for one excruciatingly bad hole.
When we look back and write Rory's history — which, I guess, we're doing right now — that hole, the 10th at Augusta, will likely stand as the most critical in his career. That triple bogey, which cost him a green jacket, could have destroyed the kid, snuffed out his career, turned him into one of those what-ever-happened-tos that shows up for a couple majors a year and leaves before the weekend.
It didn't work out that way. McIlroy rebounded from that by winning the very next major, the U.S. Open at Congressional, by eight strokes. He owned the next year's PGA Championship at Kiawah, also by eight strokes. And now he's gone wire-to-wire at the Open Championship (just the seventh ever to do so), giving his pursuers only the illusion of hope, not real hope itself.
McIlroy isn't the most reliable of golfers. It's entirely possible he'll miss the cut at Valhalla next month. But when he's on, there's nobody better playing today. From here on out, his competition isn't the guys playing alongside him. It's the guys who've played golf in the decades before, and the decades after. This is going to be a fun career to watch.
The superlatives just go on and on.