x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Rory McIlroy a different kind of cat

The Northern Irishman checked out early at the US Open, proof that this young lion is unlikely to reach Tiger's heights.

It was a quick two days work for Rory McIlroy at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, though it was not his best. The Northern Irishman crashed out of the US Open, missing the cut in defence of his 2011 title.
It was a quick two days work for Rory McIlroy at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, though it was not his best. The Northern Irishman crashed out of the US Open, missing the cut in defence of his 2011 title.

Rory McIlroy missed the US Open cut on Friday, a ho-hum matter that should cause neither undue concern nor brawling among golf hooligans.

It merely allows a frank assessment to congeal: McIlroy will never be Tiger Woods.

Quash that prospect.

He might have as much or more talent according to some golf intellectuals; he might be only 23 and thrilling; he might prompt reasonable visions of future duels; he might dredge from rational minds the crazy predictions of double-digit majors.

He just will never match Woods for incredibleness.

Well, come on, it's hardly some sombre failure.

If anything, McIlroy's missed cut lends a chance to remind that for a long, long, long time Woods never did, and that the fact that he never did remains bewildering.

Look who just did (miss the cut), and you start to think it's just about everybody.

The US Open on Friday in San Francisco peeled away the Masters champion, Bubba Watson, and the Masters play-off runner-up, Louis Oosthuizen. It shooed the world No 1 player, Luke Donald, and the No 2 player, McIlroy. There went recent US Open champions Lucas Glover and Geoff Ogilvy, and recent other major champions Stewart Cink, YE Yang, Trevor Immelman.

Remember our old buddy from Abu Dhabi in January, Robert Rock?

Gone.

The last two champions at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Alvaro Quiros and Rafael Cabrera-Bello?

Wheels up on those jets.

Let's go back, then, to when Woods and McIlroy won their first majors, Woods at 21 in 1997, McIlroy at 22 in 2011, Woods in his first professional try, McIlroy in his 10th. Mark those gaudy arrivals, and go from there.

Woods made the cut in the ensuing 36 majors, finally missing at the 2006 US Open one month after the death of his father. That missed cut threw him into such a horrendous tailspin that in the next eight majors he finished first, first, second, second, 12th, first, second and first. Only at the 2009 British Open along the Turnberry coastline did his six-hole haunted house from No 8 to No 13 on Friday bring a cut not associated with mourning.

That stretch looked like some zombie film, with its three bogeys and two double bogeys, its visits to foliage, its rebellious chip that rolled back on No 13, its bunkers on No 8 and No 12, its golf-ball search party on No 10.

It just looked weird.

After winning the US Open by a yawning margin last year, McIlroy made the cut in the ensuing three majors. That sounds more like normal humanity.

Stashed in Woods's history, there is a telltale moment forgotten by all but the most demented. The moment demonstrated the outlandish consistency that, impression-wise, stands alongside his 14 major titles or anything else he has forged.

It happened at the 2001 PGA Championship in Atlanta. There, Woods came to No 15 two strokes in to the cut dungeon on a course many others had mauled. He had just shanked a tee shot on No 12, grimaced at a lip-out bogey on No 13 and noted "two bad shots and a bad putt" on No 14. His streak of 73 survived cuts in all tournaments tilted toward a topple.

So on No 15, he made a monster 40-footer from off the green, and on No 16, he tacked on a 30-footer, and he made that cut and he said, "I'll tell you one thing: When I play, I take great pride in what I do."

There seemed a sliver of him that, of course, relished the predicament, but there was no sliver of him that would just let it go, which would be even understandable now and then, especially in unpleasant conditions such as Southern American humidity.

He did not contend through that weekend, but he did post a finish tied for 29th, which is not lousy on a course that doesn't seem to thrill him, his third major missed cut coming there last August.

So McIlroy cannot match that consistency, ever. His unforeseen rut since his soar of last summer and autumn and winter might have many explanations or it might have just one: golf. The Olympic course in San Francisco seems particularly rude. A 77-73 as McIlroy posted hardly calls for investigation or intervention.

It just might, however, make you go rifling back through the numbers of Woods's major finishes across time, and even if you know a good many of them by memory, they still might make you stop and think, Wait a minute. These digits are crazy.

Even a remarkable consistency McIlroy might attain later on could never reach this tier. Thus far through this era, you can't be Woods no matter how good you are.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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