Commentary

Rory McIlroy's star continues to rise

Updated: September 10, 2012, 6:02 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

CARMEL, Ind. -- The game of golf has always embraced a dominant force over parity. The idea that anybody can win any given tournament is nice, but fans seemingly hail champions and shun underdogs.

That's why Rory McIlroy's victory on Sunday will be cheered from here to PGA Tour headquarters in Florida and on to European Tour headquarters in England and to parts around the world that he will visit in the coming weeks and months.

[+] EnlargeRory McIlroy
Warren Little/Getty ImagesIn his last two events, Rory McIlroy is an astounding 40-under par at the BMW Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship. When he tees it up in two weeks at the Tour Championship, he'll be paired with Tiger Woods in Round 1 at East Lake.

Already a superstar, McIlroy simply added to his already burgeoning legacy with a 2-stroke victory at the BMW Championshp where he defeated Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and a slew of others in the third FedEx Cup playoff event.

It was McIlroy's third victory in four events, giving him a firm grasp on the world's No. 1 ranking. The way the system is set up, he still has some work to do in Atlanta at the Tour Championship in order to claim the FedEx Cup title, but with a fourth win this year on the PGA Tour -- including a major championship -- he is all but a lock to be player of the year.

"He's pretty awesome, isn't he?" said Robert Garrigus, who tried to make a run at McIlroy before tying for fourth. "It's kind of tough to sum up something like that. You make putts like that and hit it as straight as he does and got a good short game. … It's kind of like Tiger was doing back in the day. It's pretty impressive.

"He's a good kid, too, and I'm happy for him. He's a really good guy, and he's great for golf. It's somebody beating it up again. I wish he wouldn't beat it up so often so we could get a couple in."

McIlroy, 23, is the first player since Woods in 2009 to win back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour and the first since Woods won six times that year to post four victories in a season.

Woods used to make that look routine, and the golf world became mesmerized by his ability to win so often. Taking him down was a feat, and that is now how it will be for McIlroy.

"I think I've always had an appreciation for what Tiger did over the years, winning seven, eight, nine times in a season for I don't know how long," said McIlroy, who shot 5-under-par 67 on Sunday and began the final round 1 shot behind Mickelson and Vijay Singh. "The more you put yourself in this position and the more you win and the more you pick up trophies, it becomes normal, and it feels like this is what you're supposed to do.

"I'm sure that's how he felt when he was on that run and how he still feels. He still won three times this year. I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I'm getting to that stage where I'm thinking, this is what I should be doing. I should be lifting a trophy at the end of the week."

Woods can relate and must certainly see a little of himself in McIlroy, who is posting the victories while Tiger is left to wonder how to close the gap. After a summer of disappointments while getting into contention at the major championships, Woods has been 35-under par combined during the past two tournaments.

Of course, McIlroy was 40 under, beating Woods by 2 shots at the Deutsche Bank Championship and by 3 strokes here. Not since Woods saw Singh emerge in 2004-05 to take over No. 1 in the world in two different stints has there been a player go to the top in such fashion.

"He's going out there and is up near the lead and posts a good number," Woods said. "He's doing the things he needs to do, and as he said yesterday, he's feeling very confident about his game. Right now he's just really playing well and he's making a ton of putts. That's a great combo."

A big difference between McIlroy and Woods on Sunday: Rory birdied three of the four par-5s while Tiger birdied none of them. That's three strokes, the margin between them. Those are the holes Woods routinely dominated; this week McIlroy played them in 10 under, including two eagles.

But he had far more than just Woods to contend with. Mickelson and Singh began the day in front, but Singh slumped to a 73 while Mickelson tried to keep it interesting, a bogey at the 17th hole dooming his chances.

Playing partner Westwood was also in contention, as was Dustin Johnson.

"He's a talent, yeah," Westwood said. "I played with him when he was 13, and you could see it then. He's just maturing all the time, and he will [continue] to. And he's a very, very good player."

This year alone, McIlroy held off a hard-charging Woods, who shot a final-round 62 at the Honda Classic; won the PGA Championship by 8 strokes; captured the Deutsche Bank Championship by a stroke over former Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen when he didn't have his best stuff; and separated himself from an all-star field Sunday.

In the past two weeks, McIlroy has won $2.88 million and in his past four starts he is 54 under par with three wins.

"He's just impressive," Garrigus said. "He's got an unbelievable short game, putting stroke is flawless, got good speed. He's everything you want in a golfer. I don't know if he's going to get quite to what Tiger did in his career, but he's pretty darned close."

And that is why McIlroy's success is so impressive. Whether or not he can compare to Woods is a story years in the making, but it has the potential to be just as compelling as Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus -- and that is far from over, too.

For now, McIlroy will try to win his first FedEx Cup in the Tour Championship at East Lake, in a tournament and at a venue where he has never played.

Making matters difficult is the fact that the other players in the top five of the FedEx Cup points -- Woods, Nick Watney, Mickelson, and Brandt Snedeker -- can win the title themselves if they were to win the 30-player tournament in two weeks.

No matter, all eyes will be on McIlroy in Atlanta, a most welcome occurrence in golf.

"It's been great," he said. "The last four weeks, five weeks have been incredible, some of the best golf that I've ever played. I'm going to try and keep the run going for as long as possible."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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