ON THE TEE: WHO: Rory McIlroy | AGE: 19 | LIVES: Belfast
Stop looking. The search is over. Ten years after Sergio Garcia made his debut, the next "can't miss" European golfer is now playing in the United States. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the youngest player ever to be ranked in the world's top 20 (he was 16th in March), will play as many as seven PGA Tour events through mid-May, a schedule that includes two World Golf Championships, the Masters and the Players Championship.
"I first saw Rory in his early teens," says tour pro and fellow Irishman Darren Clarke. "I knew instantly he had a special talent, and I believe he can go as far as he wants in the game."
Clarke isn't alone in his enthusiasm. After playing the opening two rounds of this year's Dubai Desert Classic with McIlroy, two-time major champion Mark O'Meara said the teen was technically better than Tiger at the same age. Two days later, McIlroy won Dubai, his first professional victory, with an exciting mix of huge drives, spectacular approaches and youthful recklessness. Six shots ahead with six holes to play, McIlroy got up and down from the sand to make par at the last to win by one over Justin Rose. All of which only enhanced his enthusiasm for adventure.
"I want to be a real world player," McIlroy says of his intentions of playing in the United States and Europe. "This win definitely, probably ... moved [me] up a step. I want to try to just keep getting better and better."