Rory McIlroy's heroics at Congressional on Friday prove sport can still churn out genuine bewilderment.
Rory McIlroy's script straight out of Holywood
Why bother anymore with sport and all its crud?
Well, how about Friday?
On Friday came a sight that made the eyes send a message to the brain which then sent a message to the jaw instructing it to drop in the general direction of the floor. On Friday evening a quick check of the US Open leaderboard, an exercise that could have turned up humdrum, turned up wow!
On a course doling out pain, in wretched heat, that lad from Holywood in Northern Ireland had a 10-shot lead and stood at 13-under par, the lowest score anybody ever had at any juncture in all the 111 humiliating times they have played that tournament.
Taking the macro view from there, it did not matter what would happen to Rory McIlroy through the weekend at Congressional Country Club - even the double bogey on 18 that dropped his 36-hole total to 11-under par. It did not matter if he would sustain his gaping lead and win his first major title at 22 or if he would cough up the whole thing and incur another harsh lesson.
What mattered was the loudness, the further proof that sport still can churn out a fine bewilderment better than just about anything else in life.
The freight train out of Holywood keeps getting more audible, and it promises to add a huge dose of interest whether McIlroy racks up some major wins or has further difficulty locating trophies. At the British Open last year, he opened with a 63 for first place, then spat out an almost inconceivable 80 before settling finally into third. At the PGA Championship, he lurked in second after three rounds before finishing third again.
At the Masters, most graphically, he led after Thursday (tie) and Friday (alone) and Saturday (by four) before another phantasmagorical 80 sent him on one of those haunted, if scenic, tours of the back nine at Augusta National. He still impressed listeners with his aplomb, fielding questions afterward.
Then at this US Open, he produced the kind of you're-kidding moment that keeps sport going, lends it fresh waves of surprise.
Tabulate all of this from 2011, and at the first two majors of the year, that curly-haired kid who showed up at Carnoustie in 2007 has wrought more commotion than all but the one golfer who always wreaks the most commotion. He - McIlroy - had done this at age barely 22, absurdly young even if Tiger Woods made us forget so.
It seemed as if the game whisked toward - not into, but toward - a new paradigm in which it might turn out largely (if never exclusively) about McIlroy. The elderly Sergio Garcia, 31, whose storyline shows the hardness of winning majors, even went so far as to say that McIlroy already "deserves" a major title.
These stories don't have to turn out this way, especially in the finicky business of golf. They don't have to wind up even hinting at future trophies the way McIlroy's story has.
Sure, he won the amateur's Silver Medal at that Open in Scotland in 2007. Sure, he shot 68 in his first round at age 18 and felt "a chill down the back of my spine with the ovation I got" with seemingly half of Holywood present at No 18. Sure, he charmed reporters by relating that the biggest star from this particular Holywood happened to be the guy who invented those "cat's eyes" that adorn roads to guide nighttime drivers.Sure, he said he had learned the invaluable lesson that you "don't have to do extraordinary things to do well out here", and drew chortles with his immediate plans to go from Scotland to skiing in Dubai.
None of that meant we would ever hear his name again, not the way that sport jettisons people of substantial skill.
And sure, he would notch that first win in Dubai in 2009, lead by six on Sunday, bogey three straight holes, steady himself on No 18 for one of the best bunker shots of his days, learn the difficulty of maintaining even a yawning lead, reach the top 20 and say, "Yeah, wow." Those details lent further promise, but they did not necessitate any of this.
They did not foretell that he might just have that something extra, that he would spend three days leading the Masters while still 21, that his theatrical skill at the US Open would draw raves from Phil Mickelson et al, or that whatever heights or pratfalls might come by Sunday evening, he and his 13 under would give the gift of astonishment, a leading reason to bother with following any of this stuff.