The sports-fans-turned-golf-fans of the Tiger Woods generation still don't get it. Why should they? Nobody -- not even Jack Nicklaus -- tore through the sport like Tiger did from 1997 to 2008, winning 14 majors.
So when challengers arise, Woods' fans scoff. They see Rory McIlroy miss the cut at the U.S. Open and declare him counterfeit. Tiger never bowed out of a tournament so compliantly (or, by the way, so graciously). So McIlroy can't have the stuffing of a Tiger.
After McIlroy's domination of the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday, winning a major by eight strokes for the second time in his career, Woods fans may have to rethink their position. With two majors, McIlroy, 23, is ahead of Tiger's pace.
What we have in McIlroy is another kind of genius. When the conditions are right and his rhythmic swing is in synch, he is unbeatable.
True, he's an artist who loses interest when the subject isn't to his liking and his brush strokes fall short of perfection. Grinding isn't part of his DNA. At this year's British Open, he expressed a dislike for windy links golf, odd for a man who grew up in seaside Holywood, Northern Ireland. He was done before it started.
In his prime, Woods could win anywhere and with less than his best stuff. Nicklaus and Woods were the most talented players of their respective generations -- and also were the most competitive. That's a rare combination. McIlroy has one part of it. Can he be great without the other?
It's unlikely that McIlroy will have five majors by the end of his 24th year as Woods did by the end of 2000. McIlroy isn't as driven as Tiger. Who is? But his swing and his Alfred E. Newman persona might be a better formula for longevity.
It's impossible to know what McIlroy will be like at age 36. But it's difficult to imagine him in 2025 with an antagonistic relationship with the press, a reconstructed knee and a third swing change. It's easy, however, to see him loving life, winning majors and pursing greatness on his timetable.
"I feel I have a lot more to achieve in this game," McIlroy told reporters. "But this is a great start."
- Kevin Dunleavy