Bunker Mentality

Rory v Tiger: Head to Head

Bunker Mentality

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'Rory can beat Woods to 18' roared the headline in one of the UK tabloids this morning after McIlroy won the US Open by eight shots in record style on Sunday.

Of course Tiger has a 13 Major lead on the young Northern Irishman in the quest to reach Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 victories in the sport's elite four tournaments.

But is the Hollywood, California hype justified about the 22-year-old from Hollywood, County Down?

Well in terms of age, the pair are level pegging.

Tiger of course was at the height of his powers at the turn of the Millenium when he held all four Majors when claiming the 2001 Masters, at the age of 25.

McIlroy wasn't a million miles away from his own Tiger Slam over the past 12 months.

13 of his last 16 Major rounds have been under-par and 11 of those sub-70.

A cataclysmic second round 80 foiled him at St Andrews and he missed out by a shot at the US PGA - he finished third in both tournaments - and the critics were lining up after he threw away a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta after a back nine meltdown in a round of 80.

But he confirmed his rich promise as a potential golfing great by becoming the US Open's youngest winner since 1923 in the most impressive display of golf since Tiger won by 15 shots at the 1997 Masters....also aged 22.

The series of scoring records posted by McIlroy is naturally going to draw comparisons with Tiger.

As is McIlroy's enormous length off the tee which is reminiscent of a young Woods (Padraig Harrington has nicknamed McIlroy the BMW because he is the Ultimate Driving Machine).

And let's not forget their mutual love of Florida lap dancers (cue crash of cymbals)

Technically McIlroy is close to perfection, his position at contact is the best in golf and in the last 12 months he has added even more power, dare we say Tiger power, to his game.

Prodigious length off the tee, metronomic iron play and a hot putter...but there were still questions about the six inches between his ears.

McIlroy only had two wins to his name prior to Congressional - and a worryingly long string of near-misses - but he banished the demons with such shrewd golf you could almost hear the cogs working in his brain.

After three-putting the first at Augusta, holing a birdie putt on the opening hole was the perfect start. He then thought his way around the golf course, eschewing the driver off the tee and cautiously lag putting his approaches with aplomb.

A fat wedge to the green at nine which just crossed the water and a putt at 17, that failed to reach the crest of the hill, were his only mistakes in what was otherwise a faultless round of golf.

He was just a whisker away from an Ace at 10 and a hole-in-one would have been the perfect V sign to those who were predicting a Greg Norman-type choke.

Yes McIlroy had already been labelled a choker before he had even reached his 22nd birthday!

But Rory has got a big headstart on Woods who only turned pro aged 20 years and eight months. By that age McIlroy had already posted 30 top-10 finishes on the European Tour.

So what now?

Well don't expect McIlroy to win every time he turns up. After that record-breaking performance at Augusta, Woods only won once on the US Tour as a 23-year-old...albeit finishing in the top 10 in three of the four Majors that year.

Woods was at the peak of his powers between the age of 24 and 27 but that doesn't necessarily mean McIlroy will follow suit.

McIlroy - at 22 years and a month - broke Nicklaus' record as the youngest US Open winner but the man third on that list is Jerry Pate.

He also won the US Open before hitting 23 but never won another Major - just one example of a long, long list of youngsters who have failed to fulfil early potential.

Golf can be a cruelly fickle game, just watch Sergio Garcia putt or speak to David Duval who was world number one and won the 2001 Open Championship, only to suffer an alarming a downward spiral in form that saw him fall off the radar at an alarming rate.

Only time will tell whether McIlroy can win the close Major, produce the come from behind charge and avoid the technical pitfalls of a Garcia or Duval or the personal and physical unravelling of Woods that has many thinking that he willl never win another Major.

For now we can only speculate but we'll leave the final word on McIlroy with Jack Nicklaus who should know something about a golfer.

"He's got a great golf swing and he's a nice kid"

TIGER TIMELINE
Year Wins (Majors) Age Money list rank
1996 2 21 24
1997 4 (1) 22 1
1998 1 23 4
1999 8 (1) 24 1
2000 9 (3) 25 1
2001 5 (1) 26 1
2002 5 (2) 27 1
2003 5 28 2
2004 1 29 4
2005 6 (2) 30 1
2006 8 (2) 31 1
2007 7 (1) 32 1
2008 4 (1) 33 2
2009 6 34 1
2010 0 35 68
2011 0 36 77
Career 71 (14)
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