Jack Nicklaus praises ‘cocksure’ Rory McIlroy
US Open victor has all the components to be great says Nicklaus, the greatest
Just how good can Rory McIlroy actually become? The 22-year-old Northern Irish golfer stormed to victory last night in the US Open, his first major tournament win, at the Congressional Country Club in Bethseda, Maryland.
The manner of McIlroy's triumph was so absolute - he finished eight shots clear of second-placed Jason Day - that many in the sport are beginning to compare the youngster to such greats as Tiger Woods and even the mighty Jack Nicklaus.
McIlroy led the contest at every stage of the four-round event, and his winning score of 268 was 16 under par, a record for the US Open.
Those tuning in yesterday expecting edge-of-the-seat thrills and spills in the final round were disappointed, however. That was because McIlroy had destroyed the field to such an extent over the first three days that Sunday was a nerveless stroll round a tamed course.
As McIlroy celebrated with his father Gerry and fellow Northern Irish golfer Graeme McDowall - the 2010 US Open champion - on the 18th green following his fourth sub-par round, the plaudits were already beginning to flow in.
"Rory is going to have a great career, there is no question about that. He has got all the components," said 18-times major champion Nicklaus.
"He is a great kid. He is humble when he needs to be and confident when he needs to be confident. He's a got a great swing. He looks a little cocksure when he walks, which you need to have. I like it."
Tom Callahan, author of a book about Tiger Woods's father, Earl, told the New York Times that McIlroy was "the one who's been on the horizon, the guy everybody has been hoping would come along. I'm ready for a sports hero who doesn't treat the world like his spittoon."
And even McIlroy's fellow professionals, notionally his rivals, are tipping the youngster for the top. Padraig Harrington, Ireland's most successful living golfer with three majors to his name, said that McIlroy could better Nicklaus's record.
"If you are going to talk about someone challenging Jack... there’s your man. Winning majors at 22 with his talent – he would have 20 more years, so probably 100 more majors in him where he could be competitive. It would give him a great chance."
The next moves for McIlroy will prove crucial. He has already shown the steel to recover from throwing away a tournament-leading position at this year's US Masters to come back at the next attempt and win. Now all eyes will be on his performance at the next major, The Open at Royal St George's, next month.
But as Tiger Woods and many other outrageously gifted sportsmen have shown, the biggest pitfalls facing McIlroy lie off the golf course. It is here where the unassuming and level-headed McIlroy's solid family background should help to keep him grounded.
Where many of his contemporaries on the golf tour were fast-tracked into the professional world with sport scholarships to US colleges and the like, McIlroy is genuinely home-grown. His father Gerry worked as a barman at the local Holywood golf club, where McIlroy's honed his prodigious talent.
Gerry and his wife Rosie had a synthetic putting green laid in the garden of their council house for their son to practice on, and at age five he came under the tutelage of Michael Bannon, the assistant professional golfer at the Holywood club, and then the Golfing Union of Ireland's coaching scheme.
Even in the trickier realms of professional management, McIlroy has had the fortune to end up in sympathetic hands. He is represented by International Sports Management, the Manchester-based organisation set up by Andrew Flintoff's manager Chubby Chandler, having been guided Chandler's way by fellow Ulster golfer Darren Clarke.
Unless he does something completely out of character, the 22-year-old appears to have the foundations in place that mean we only ever judge him on his sporting achievements. ·