BETHESDA, Md. – It’s a legends-only club, men who’ve won majors age 25 and younger. Men so famous you need not list their full names: Jones, Sarazen, Nelson, Player, Nicklaus, Ballesteros, Watson, Els and Woods.
Colleague Brandel Chamblee likes to say that there’s no better barometer of all-time greatness than winning big early.
When Jack Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in the ’62 U.S. Open in Arnie’s backyard at Oakmont he was 22. There wasn’t a shred of doubt that Nicklaus would not only shove aside Arnold but likely Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and all of the greats who came before him.
Tiger Woods winning by 12 shots at 21 at Augusta wasn’t a one off, that was damn clear. It was the start of something epic.
We’re not there with Rory McIlroy yet, not even close. But we’re intrigued, aren’t we?
His glorious swing conjures Tiger back when Tiger was lean and limber, bludgeoning Augusta’s par-5 15th with a driver and a sand wedge.
His resiliency and freakish talent conjures Mickelson.
Three days from now McIlroy could have a fawning and desperate-for-a-new-star media comparing him to Ballesteros, who won his first major at 22.
Three days from now he could draw comparisons to Tom Watson, who picked himself up after a final-round 79 at the 1974 U.S. Open and went on to win eight majors.
Three days from now he could be the answer to the question: What happens after Tiger?
But three days from now could also turn into three years from now.
McIlroy sat before the press after his round comparing recent Thursdays in majors. Which was better, the 63 at St. Andrews, the 65 at Augusta or the 65 at Congressional?
Greatness will be his when he’s able to compare Sundays. He’s not there yet. But we’re intrigued, aren’t we?