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The Loop

With second major, McIlroy announces his arrival among the greats

August 12, 2012

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Off the 16th tee, cruising, Rory McIlroy chose to hit a driver. Kids love to hit it big and here's the greatest kid player anybody has seen this century. (Tiger was so 20th century.) Because it's a monster hole, 581 yards, McIlroy could use his elastic body, "the double-hip snap or whatever the hell he calls it," to quote his fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell. What it means is, when he wants to, he flat kills the tee shot.

And you shoulda seen this one.


Photo by Getty Images

A rocket. Rising toward the clouds. A draw to a fairway turning left. In the air forever, then running out down a slope. It was as if God Herself had said, "Let there be Rory and let him move men, women, and children to stand in awe of his work." Let's say the shot covered 340 yards. What happened next was nice -- up and down from a wasteland for birdie -- but it was that divinely beautiful drive that reminded us all we had been witness to McIlroy's arrival at greatness.

Only 23 years old, he now has won two major championships, last year's U.S. Open and this PGA, and has won them both by eight shots. This is the kind of separation from mortals that once was the hallmark of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Do this often enough, people start writing purple prose (guilty) and talking in melodramatic phrases. Here's another Irishman, Padraig Harrington, who sees fate's hand on McIlroy's shoulders: "He's only doing what he was destined to."

He came to Sunday's afternoon round with a goal. "I said, 'Look, if I get to 12-under par, nobody is going to catch me." Here we should pause. We should consider the audacity of the young man's hope. To get to 12-under, he needed a 67 -- that's 67 -- that's five-under on a Sunday in a major playing in the last group on a 7,676-yard golf course that Woods himself feared: "You can take a double and a triple in a heartbeat without hitting bad shots."

So here's what McIlroy did.

He made six birdies, none on a putt longer than the 20-footer at the 18th. He made no bogeys, knocking in four putts inside 10 feet to save par. He shot 66. He finished 13-under par. And reminded us again that the wonder of sports is that we see ordinary people do extraordinary things, and we see extraordinary people do unimagined things.

"Just an incredible day," McIlroy said in the media conference after, sitting alongside the Wanamaker trophy. "To sit up here and see this trophy and call myself a 'multiple major champion,' I know I've talked about it in the past, and not many people have done it . . .I'm very privileged to join such an elite list of names."

Such was McIlroy's mastery that he allowed himself only the occasional glance at a leader board. He saw, early, that Ian Poulter had birdied six of the first seven holes -- and yet trailed McIlroy by three shots. Later, cruising, knowing this was his to win, McIlroy thought to look at the boards to see if anyone might be charging from behind -- perhaps, even Tiger, who started the afternoon round at two-under-par.

"On the back nine," McIlroy said, "I looked a couple times and saw that his name wasn't there," and if that doesn't serve as a definitive signal of times a-changing, it serves until something better comes along. Woods, the co-leader at 36 holes, finished with rounds of 74 and 72 (to finish T-11, one shot ahead of another 20th century star, John Daly).

It was on that back nine that McIlroy knew it was done. He knew it, really, at the 12th hole, a 412-yarder turning right and downhill. There he killed a 3-wood tee shot -- that double hip-snap thing is a killer -- 40 yards past his playing partners. From 140 yards, looking at a pin with water five steps to its right, McIlroy dropped a wedge eight feet left of the cup. My scribbled notes greenside: "Win it w/this." He made the putt, and, for the first time all day, thrust a fist at the hole in strong, silent celebration.

"I think there I was 6 shots up with 6 holes to play," he said, and he was right about that, and he was cruising then, past the impossible 14th hole, carried along with that drive on the16th, and then he found himself, seven shots to the clear, walking up the 18th fairway. Twice, three times, four, he took off his cap and rubbed his hand through his extravagant hair. From the green's edge, 20 feet, he could seven-putt and still be in the playoff. On the walk up, "I was just taking the whole thing in. . . .I allowed myself the luxury of walking up 18 knowing that I was going to win. I enjoyed the moment, just let it all sink in."

Then he knocked in the 20-footer, raised his arms in triumph, sought out his father for a long, sweet hug, and later, when asked by the assembled literati what he could have done better this week -- driving, iron play, putting? -- he answered with a great smile and a single word.

He said, "Nothing."