Rory v. Tiger

This past weekend, 22-year old phenom Rory McIlroy dominated the field to notch his first major championship at the U.S. Open at Congressional. McIlroy established a new record score of 16-under par and won by the second-largest margin in the tournaments long history.

Shortly after the victory, many experts, journalists and casual sports fans were quick to tab young Rory as “the next Tiger Woods” and a true threat to Tiger’s dominance over the last 15 years.

America, let’s slow down. As a society, we are always desperate to find the next big thing and to claim that this player is not just equal, but better. Examples include Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby as the next Wayne Gretzky, Washington Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg as the next Nolan Ryan, and most notably, Miami Heat forward LeBron James as the next Michael Jordan.

Much of this hype is driven by the media, where extreme hyperbole is natural. In fact, Sports Illustrated used to run a series called “The Chosen Ones”, a list that included LeBron, New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, prep star basketball player Sebastian Telfair, and high school baseball wonder kid Bryce Harper. Each time, the magazine made these young players out to be the best players of all-time, before they played on professional game.

If we’ve learned anything about setting standards this high, we’re often incorrect in our initial assessments. Sidney Crosby, though a great player and a star in the NHL, is clearly no Wayne Gretzky, who’s nickname is “The Great One”. Strasburg, already sidelined with Tommy John Surgery, made a huge splash when he came into the league, but probably won’t throw seven no-hitters like Ryan or break the all-time strikeout king’s record. And LeBron James will never be compared to Michael Jordan again after his most recent playoff meltdown.

So, why must we be so quick to anoint Rory McIlroy as the next Tiger, who is easily a once-in-a-lifetime athlete? First, the reasons why Rory is even in the conversation:

-He has held a lead at one point in time in three of the last four major championships (exception of the 2010 PGA Championship)
-Of the two majors in 2011, he has been the leader at the conclusion of seven of the eight rounds played (exception of the final round at The Masters)
-Set a record for lowest score in a U.S. Open Championship while winning wire-to-wire

All of those are great reasons and show that McIlroy is on the cusp of stardom. However, he isn’t Tiger. Nowhere close to Tiger. And here’s why:

First, McIlroy’s U.S. Open performance isn’t the most dominating performance of all-time. He did set the record for lowest score in Open history, but he did it at a course that was full of red numbers. The most impressive U.S. Open performance is and will probably always will be Tiger’s 2000 victory at Pebble Beach. Remember, in 2000, Tiger won with a score of 12-under par, which was a record. Not only was his score a record, Tiger was the only player that year under par. He won by 15 strokes, still a U.S. Open record. Nobody will touch Tiger’s dominance in 2000 ever.

Second, while it is impressive that Rory has led at some point during three of the last four Majors, he has only captured one victory. Young Tiger, at the height of his dominance, would never had let those leads escape. In fact, Tiger has never lost when leading after 54-holes at a Major Championship. McIlroy not only didn’t win The Masters in April after holding the 54-hole lead, but he shot an 80.

Third, Rory’s win at the U.S. Open was only his third career win, and only his second on American soil. Tiger has won 71 PGA Tour events, including his 14 Major championships. He’s also won 38 times on the European Tour. Enough said. Not to mention, Tiger played this year’s Masters on a gimpy leg and almost came away the victor. At 35-years old, Tiger still has some productive years of golf ahead of him (Jack Nicklaus, widely considered the greatest golfer of all-time, won his 18th and final major at the age of 46).

So, let’s not jump the gun and call Rory McIlroy the next Tiger Woods. Instead, let’s enjoy McIlroy’s tantalizing game and the parity that is starting to form in golf.

Even better, let’s wait until a healthy Tiger has a chance to stare down McIlory in a final grouping at a major championship. Until then, Rory McIlroy will only be a talented, young golfer on the rise.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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