- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- One round is in the books and it is already time for those opposing Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship to be afraid -- very, very afraid. He is not Tiger Woods, and he most likely will never be Tiger Woods.
Only that doesn't mean McIlroy can't deliver a spot-on impression of Woods -- a Frank Caliendo-eat-your-heart-out impression of Woods -- for the balance of a season sure to be defined by his emergence as a credible superpower at a time when golf is in dire need of one.
McIlroy got smacked hard by Valhalla on Thursday, double-bogeying a par-5 (he whistled his fairway wood out of bounds left) and bogeying the following hole to start his second nine with a plunge to even par. Rory could've called it a season right then and there.
He could've taken his Hoylake title and the subsequent WGC victory in LeBron James' backyard and started prepping himself for another beatdown of the Americans at the Ryder Cup.
Instead, McIlroy punched back, with feeling.
"Very, very hot," was the way he described his emotions after 3-putting the 11th hole. He scolded himself on the walk to the 12th tee, and that was that. McIlroy ripped off four consecutive birdies and added one on the 18th hole to finish at 5-under 66, one stroke off the lead according to a PGA scoreboard that isn't kidding anyone.
McIlroy was really the horse out in front by Secretariat lengths.
He is 37-under par since the start of the Open Championship, and perhaps Woods inspired the past five rounds of this tear. It was lost a bit in the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Hoylake coronation of Rory, the new boy king of golf, yet Tiger did indeed cut the kid at the knees with a three-iron before the Open Championship was even complete.
Do you remember the quote? Woods was lobbed a question about his friend and fellow Nike pitchman McIlroy, and the man in the red shirt turned it into something it was not. He was told that young Rory was dominating like a young Tiger, and bam, just like that, Woods launched the question and McIlroy right out of the park.
Woods said McIlroy reminded him more of Phil Mickelson, and no, he didn't mean it as a compliment.
"When he gets it going, he gets it going," Woods said. "When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad."
Understand that Woods never says anything about anyone, unless provoked beyond reason. He wasn't provoked on this one, not even close. On McIlroy's big breakout day, Woods found a reason to say the 25-year-old is inconsistent. He found a reason to say McIlroy has a game that sometimes goes "real bad." Asked about it in Akron, McIlroy did what most expected him to do: He wasn't getting into a hissing match with Woods, and hey, facts are facts. Tiger was far more consistent during his run of extended dominance than Rory has been in the early hours of his stardom.
But still, Woods didn't have to say what he said when he said it.
"There's plenty of players that would like to be as inconsistent as me," McIlroy said in Akron, the closest he would come to a rebuke of his elder.
Let's face it: Public figures rarely tell the complete truth about their feelings, especially when engaged in a competitive pursuit. Human nature being what it is, McIlroy had to be at least a tad wounded by Tiger's unnecessary jab.
That's OK. Jack Nicklaus might've made it all better when he told ESPN's "Mike & Mike" on Wednesday that the kid with three major titles "has an opportunity to win 15 or 20 majors or whatever he wants to do if he keeps playing."
This was the same Jack Nicklaus, of course, who had pressed McIlroy before the U.S. Open about his alarming second-round trend of Friday follies. "How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?" Nicklaus asked.
But back to those 15 or 20 majors.
"If that's Jack's opinion," McIlroy said Thursday, "he has a high opinion of me. Look, I've always said I'm on three, I want to get to four. Hopefully, I can get to four this week and then keep going from there."
Friday's forecasted rain is expected to soften up Valhalla and make it putty in McIlroy's hands. He will start the second round nine shots ahead of Woods, who remains something of a prisoner of his bad back.
Chances are McIlroy will never match Woods' 14 majors (never mind Nicklaus' 18) or his consistency or his enduring star power.
But McIlroy is talented enough and confident enough to assume the role of Tiger Woods for a little while, anyway. And one round deep into this PGA Championship, that should leave everyone else cowering in their spikes.