It is possible, assuming you were taking advantage of a beautiful spring-like day in the Okanagan and polishing up the Callaways with thoughts of threatening range balls with your pent-up winter golf anger, that you may have missed Sundays coronation of a new World Golf #1 – that 22-year old phenom Rory McIlroy who ascended the throne once occupied by His Royal Tigerness for an astonishing 623 weeks, of which 281 were consecutive. In doing so he has also become the 2nd youngest to reach this lofty perch, again behind He Who Once Was Eldrick and he has every chance to become ‘The Face’ of the new wave of young, brash talent that is pummeling the world’s apparently Tiger-proofed golf courses. Sunday, however, was significant because, as the Florida weather threatened at PGA National, as Jack Nicklaus joined the NBC/Golf Channel commentary team to extol the virtues of The Bear Trap, seven groups ahead of the leaders a large particularly stripy man-eating mammal of the non-housecat variety was stalking the Palm Beach Gardens area. Now, while Woods’ birdie, eagle finish for 62 may have sent South Florida’s Perkins waitresses and Spearmint Rhino dancers scurrying for cover, the young Irish prodigy never stumbled and sculpted a final round, front-runner 69 that Tiger himself would have been proud of.
Now, I am not going to join the hordes of Golf Fans and commentators who insist on searching every nook and cranny for another Tiger or Jack – I am not necessarily sure we will ever see the kind of generational domination that these 2 brought to the links ever again. That being said, while other members of the so-called New Breed such as Ricky Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa are busy building their clothing lines and brand recognition, Wee Mac’s single-mindedness has allowed him to separate himself, at least for now from the rest of the pack. While Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald seemed intent on retreating from the stage the moment the lights came on, McIlroy has craved this chance to stand alone under the spotlight as the lead role in what has already been arguably the greatest start to a golf season that I can remember. And we haven’t even got to a Major yet.
Therein will lie the test for the young Northern Irishman. You see, when March Madness finally comes to a close and we shred all of our research which led us to believe that Murray State had a legitimate shot at Final Four glory, those of us who occasionally enjoy a trip to the betting window are going to be faced with the unenviable task of picking someone worthy of strolling the azalea-lined walkways of Augusta National in a Green Jacket from now until The End of Their Days. If the ceremonial 2013 Champions Dinner menu (chosen by this years Champion) is to contain all of the culinary delights generally attributed to Northern Ireland – and please don’t think I’m going all Fuzzy Zoeller here – young Rory is going to have to exorcise some serious demons amongst the dogwoods. His final round 80 last year showed an immaturity of purpose which has never been rewarded on the hallowed fairways and greens of the famed Augusta. While his spectacular 8-shot victory at the US Open at Congressional later last year proved he had the rebound skills of Charles Barkley – thankfully without the swing – he will drive down Magnolia Lane this year most likely as one of the 3 favorites, along with 3-time Champ and perennial crowd pleaser Phil Mickelson and what appears to be, at least for the moment, a revitalized “Tiger, Tiger Woods y’all.” I might hazard a guess that Woods understands that this is his “Down To Earth” moment and in the spirit of the new and improved offered up this little Twitter nugget late Sunday afternoon: “Congrats to @mcilroyrory on getting to no. 1. Thanks to PB fans for all the love this week.” Yeah, I know – no matter how you read it, it sounds like: “I want my belt back son!” But hey, it’s a start.
Perhaps it’s just me but I really prefer the wannabe Navy Seal Tiger to the kinder, gentler version but it appears that while Hank Haney has been taking pot-shots at his one-time student with his book “The Big Miss,” Tiger Fans in his adoptive state of Florida have decided it is time to bring him back in from the cold and forgive him his transgressions. Unfortunately, as is always the case, there are those so-called fans at the course who continually fail to understand that the term ‘hospitality’ applies not just to the tent where 3 Grey Goose martinis and a 6-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon is considered a well-balanced breakfast. To these yahoos, shouting support for the former world #1 during McIlroy’s swing seemed somehow appropriate. At first I thought perhaps Davis Love III was testing out his Ryder Cup crowd plants in an effort to revisit that pinnacle of modern sportsmanship known as The Debacle at Brookline! Just kidding, I’m a huge DL3 fan and he has brought sheer class and respect to all aspects of the game of golf. The way I figure it though, if Jack Nicklaus can sit through an entire NBC golf broadcast next to Johnny Miller and not slap him senseless, can we, the Fans on the ground show a little restraint and remember that the game of golf we so love is built on the foundation of class and respect. I’m personally just waiting to hear that first crunch-time camera click in Tiger’s backswing to see how much SEAL training Joe LaCava has been required to partake in as Woods’ looper. If you think Tiger might be ranked higher than 16th in the world after next weekend at Doral, raise your hand. Yeah, I thought so… he likes it there. Until next time Kelowna, hit ‘em straight.