Open win validates McIlroy's status
HOYLAKE, England -- Even for elite athletes, self-doubt lingers at some place in their being, no matter how much they try to convince themselves otherwise.
Sure, they can win minor events around the world or even a few higher level tournaments with stronger fields, but how will they react when the pressure is the strongest and the stakes the highest?
Plain and simple, Rory McIlroy's victory Sunday at the Open Championship puts him on course to become one of the greatest players of his generation, if not ever. That's no guarantee he'll eclipse Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors or even equal Tiger Woods' mark of 14, but getting major win No. 3 after the twists and turns of the past 18 months -- including that very public breakup with now ex-fiancée Caroline Wozniacki -- proved to the Northern Irishman that he can still answer the bell on golf's grandest stage.
The longer the wait between majors wins for McIlroy -- and it hasn't even been two years since his triumph at the 2012 PGA Championship -- the harder it would have become to tick off that next one. Just ask Woods, who's going on six years and counting since capturing the 2008 U.S. Open.
Not only did McIlroy's victory at Royal Liverpool further cement his place as the face of global golf, but he also did it at the major least suited for his game, despite having grown up playing links golf. Talk about a confidence-builder. Phil Mickelson said before this year's Open Championship that if he ever needs a pick-me-up for his golf game, he watches highlights of his win from last year's Open at Muirfield.
Care to wager a few pounds that the newly minted Champion Golfer of the Year wouldn't do the same thing if his game goes south at some point in the future? And hey, it's golf. Everyone's swing takes a sabbatical at some point.
The victory at Hoylake puts McIlroy on a collision course with Augusta next April, where he will be a green jacket away from clinching the career Grand Slam before his 26th birthday. That's a tournament any sports fan will want to watch.
Wozniacki finally back on track
Kevin, I am not a doctor, therapist or life coach, nor do I play one on TV. But I don't think it takes a degree of any kind for this simple deduction: The breakup of Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy was the best thing that could ever have happened between them.
Seriously, this relationship was too public for their own good, with perpetual tweeting and made-up monikers like Wozzilroy. McIlroy once said, "We sort of both want what each other have," which as it turns out, was a résumé rife with shortcomings since they began their courtship around three years ago.
Anyway, here they are today -- two single sports celebrities with two new trophies they won on the very same day about which they can boast. Karma? Maybe. Coincidence? Yeah, perhaps. But a sign? Most definitely. I'll give you this: McIlroy's win at the Open Championship was a 300-yard drive and then some more significant than Woz's lowly title at the Istanbul Cup. We're now talking about Rory in the same company as Tiger and Jack when they were the same age, while no one outside tennis circles will remember Wozniacki's title in another month or so. But I will also say this: Woz needed this win as badly as any athlete has needed anything lately.
There had to be a point in which the Dane started doubting herself. She had long been criticized for her Slam-less No. 1 label, but at least she had the No. 1 thing going for her. Three years ago, Wozniacki was winning 80 percent of her matches; last year, just 65 percent, her lowest since her greenhorn days seven years ago. Wozniacki hadn't won a title in nine months, but of more concern, she was so far off the radar, no one was even keeping track. And just like that, we weren't wondering whether Woz would ever capture a Slam -- we questioned whether she'd ever be relevant again.
The other thing we need to mention is the fact that Wozniacki clearly was hurt and "shocked" by the breakup. It's never easy being the one dumped, especially when it's over a (purportedly) three-minute phone conversation. If anything, Woz proved she either is over her former beau or she can compartmentalize with the best of them.
Big things are expected of McIlroy. How many more majors? Will he continue on his Tiger, Jack trajectory? He can afford a few slipups here and there. Woz really can't at this point. With the US Open around the corner, this is exactly the start to the summer swing she needed.