UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- Tuesday morning, Rory McIlroy took his turn on the U.S. Open media stage, and as they say about politicians on vacation, he looked tan, rested, and ready. He's been relatively busy since he missed the cut at the Irish Open -- a tourist stop in London, four days of practice back in Florida, and a visit to Whistling Straits last Friday -- but it's been a relaxing kind of busy, which is probably the most a figure like Rory can hope for.
Already this year, Rory has succumbed to the unavoidable fatigue that comes when a packed schedule meets an unrelenting spotlight, and the results weren't pretty. He seems better now, but nobody can stand up to that kind of scrutiny for an entire career. We saw what the pressure did to Tiger Woods, and while that particular scandal played out on a ridiculous scale, there is nobody who escapes the onslaught without at least minor mental scarring.
Which brings to me the concept of a rivalry. Ironically, if Rory wants to get out from under the microscope for an entire career, he needs some help. Specifically, he needs the help of players like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. At the moment, they're not quite on his level, and if they never make that final leap, Rory's transformation into the next Tiger will be complete. As the sport's unquestioned king, he'll face the brunt of the pressures that are heaped on the shoulders of superstars. To some degree -- inevitably -- it will break him down.
But what if Spieth or Fowler or Jason Day could help shoulder that burden? What if, instead of winning 15 majors over his career, Rory won nine, and Jordan won seven, and Rickie won six? That would make him more like Ben Hogan, who had foils in Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, and less like Tiger, who had essentially nobody. Sure, Phil won a few times in that era, but never seemed to go head-to-head with Tiger at a major, while those that did, like Sergio Garcia, got bludgeoned.
If you asked Rory today, he would almost certainly want Tiger's level of success, and for his aspiring rivals to stay under heel. But from a mental health standpoint, wouldn't it be better if there was somebody to diffuse the spotlight, and soak up a portion of the unwanted attention? Unless Rory's game suddenly falls of a cliff, an American rival would give him the long-term negotiated peace he seems to covet. He may not realize it in the present, but it could be exactly what he needs in the future. World domination is overrated.