StatsMay 4, 2015

Why Rory McIlroy's first 10 PGA Tour wins are even more impressive than you think

On Sunday, Rory McIlroy joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers in the modern era with 10 PGA Tour wins before turning 26. But while McIlroy took longer to reach that mark, his 10 titles easily top the wins by Nicklaus and Woods when it comes to quality.

McIlroy doesn't just win PGA Tour events, he wins big PGA Tour events. Of course, the two men who have combined for 32 major titles did a lot of that as well, but not with the exclusivity that McIlroy has to this point in his career.

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Of McIlroy's 10 wins, four are major championships, two are World Golf Championships, and two are FedEx Cup Playoff events. His two least prestigious wins weren't too shabby, either. His first career PGA Tour victory was a come-from-behind win over Phil Mickelson when he shot a Sunday 62 at Quail Hollow in 2010. And he got win No. 3 at the 2012 Honda Classic when he overcame a final-round 62 by Tiger Woods.

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Woods, by comparison, had just one major win -- his historic rout at the 1997 Masters -- among his first 10 PGA Tour titles. His next two biggest wins in that stretch were a pair of victories at the Western Open (1997 and 1999) and wins at the 1999 Memorial and 1997 Byron Nelson. His first two career wins came in Las Vegas and Disney World -- although winning anywhere on the PGA Tour at age 20 is obviously impressive -- and you probably don't remember him holding off Jay Don Blake at the 1998 BellSouth Classic or beating Billy Ray Brown by two at the 1999 Buick Invitational.

As for Nicklaus, his first pro win was the 1962 U.S. Open, but he followed that up with victories at the Seattle World's Fair Open and Portland Open Invitational later that year. Did they really need "Open" and "Invitational" in that official tournament title?

Nicklaus counted three majors among his first 10 wins -- two more than Tiger, but one fewer than McIlroy. Nicklaus didn't have the luxury of competing in World Golf Championships and those events weren't around at the beginning of Woods' career (he made up for lost time by winning 18 of them, 15 more than anyone else). Of course, both those guys didn't have the FedEx Cup Playoffs starting out either.

But both did have the same opportunity to win in dominant fashion and neither quite matched McIlroy. Yes, Woods had the 12-shot win at the 1997 Masters, but that was the only time he won by more than three shots in his first 10 victories. Nicklaus also only won by more than three once in his first 10 wins, a five-shot victory against a small field in the 1963 Tournament of Champions. McIlroy already has three wins by wide margins, including two eight-shot romps in majors.

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McIlroy's "old" age relative to Nicklaus (24) and Woods (23) at the time of their 10th career PGA Tour titles also doesn't stand out as much when factoring in his other wins around the world. In addition, McIlroy has five European Tour wins, including a victory in that tour's flagship event, the 2014 BMW PGA, to go along with a dramatic win over Adam Scott at the 2013 Australian Open. Woods had an additional two European Tour wins at the time of his 10th PGA Tour title, while Nicklaus had zero.

Yes, any way you look at it, McIlroy, who turned 26 on Monday, is well behind the winning pace set by Nicklaus and Woods, who had 17 and 29(!) wins, respectively, by that age. In an era where racking up wins seems more difficult than ever, though, McIlroy's relatively-quick trip to double digits is even more impressive than it looks. And the quality of his first 10 wins is second to none -- no matter how long they took him to get.

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