With an indisputable No. 1 atop the list of Best Golfers in the World, leaving the rest of the global population battling for position somewhere below, the greatest competition in golf may now be found in the form of players, media and fans attempting to climb and writhe their way past each other in choosing the perfect superlative for him.
Some will call Rory McIlroy 'mercurial' in the wake of his five-birdie finish to win the DP World Tour Championship on Sunday. Others will label him 'commanding' for a season that concludes with him not only first in the Official World Golf Ranking, but sweeping both the PGA Tour and European money lists.
Justin Rose, whose course-record 62 was only good enough for second place, opted to call the performance “class.” Luke Donald, who played alongside McIlroy in the final round, went with “amazing.” Their fellow Ryder Cup teammates Francesco Molinari and Nicolas Colsaerts respectively chose “inspirational” and “unreal.”
Good news: There are no losers in this competition, other than those unwilling to recognize Rory’s current superiority. (If such people actually do exist, they’re clearly failing the ever-discerning eyeball test.)
The struggle for suitable superlatives should sound familiar, because it wasn’t so long ago that Tiger Woods was garnering similar attention. Comparisons and contrasts between Woods in his 1996-2009 form and McIlroy right now come fast and easy, even if the latter blanches at such correlations. They are alike in that both players have warranted excessive expectations, only to exceed them. They are dissimilar in that Woods often owned a propensity to win with something less than his “A” game. McIlroy will miss more cuts and play to a more mediocre level when he doesn’t have his best stuff, but when he does everyone else is usually playing for second place.
Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but those trying to apply specific adjectives to each player could label Tiger 1.0 as more “consistent” while Rory takes the edge in “torridness.” In either case, both descriptions lead to each being called “dominant,” which conjures the main theme here.
Golf has officially reentered the Thesaurus Era.
What it means is that much like competitors striving to keep pace with McIlroy, anyone wishing to chronicle his accomplishments had better come stronger than lame attempts such as “good” or “great” or the always inexcusable “words can’t even describe it.”
Here’s what we know about Rory’s recent run: Starting with the PGA Championship in August, his worldwide results table shows 1-24-1-1-10-2-3-MC-1. That's a winning percentage of 44.4 – or an even 50 if we include Ryder Cup, where he compiled a 3-2-0 record during Europe’s triumph.
Golf is an inherently cyclical game. What separates the elite from the rest of the pack is not only physical, mental and technical gifts, but often the ability to rebound from low points with aplomb, in effect limiting the ramification of such a cycle. It should be noted that McIlroy’s victory in Dubai came exactly one week after missing the cut in Hong Kong while referring to himself as “lethargic.”
If winning two of the last seven major championships by a pair of eight-stroke differentials isn’t enough to prove his worth, then bouncing back in resounding fashion should at least assist the notion of his supremacy.
Here’s what we don’t know about Rory’s recent run: Whether it will continue in 2013 and beyond. McIlroy has decided to eschew longtime equipment sponsor Titleist, which has drawn reaction ranging from those calling it a very dangerous decision to others claiming it won’t be an issue – and everything in between.
While it can’t be argued that he isn’t simply chasing the almighty dollar (or pound, as the case may be) with this impending move, we should likewise observe the quiet bravado it takes from a player to reach his sport’s pinnacle, then trust himself to remain atop that plateau despite such a monumental change.
If he does, the superlative game will endure next season and beyond, so many people attempting to climb and writhe past each other in their analysis of McIlroy’s preeminence. This isn’t a new period in the game. We witnessed the Thesaurus Era not so long ago, but the target of such descriptions has been indisputably altered.