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Rory's star rises as the US PGA's prestige slips

ESPN staff
August 15, 2012

Scheduling the US PGA Championship at the same time as the Olympics was a real blow in two ways - for the winner, Rory McIlroy, and the tournament itself.

For McIlroy, winning by eight shots once again, the diversion of attention to other events in London meant that the impact of an historic, career-altering triumph, struggled to stand out against a packed sporting landscape.

For the tournament itself, however, the whole week only served to heighten the feeling that this is golf's fourth major in every way you would care to mention - indeed, if it is even really a major at all.

The stats underline the magnitude of McIlroy's win - at 23, only Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros were younger when they became double major champions. Tiger Woods was four months older, but the way McIlroy eviscerated the field (just as he did in the US Open 12 months prior) was vintage Tiger.

Congressional was Rory McIlroy's coming out party; Kiawah was where he confirmed that all the things we have long expected of his career should (where previously it was could) come to fruition.

"He's going to be the player that kids look up to, you know, that kids measure their own games by," McIlroy's close friend Graeme McDowell said. "Ten years ago it was Tiger Woods. It still is Tiger Woods to a certain extent, but now we've got superstars like Rory McIlroy for kids to be looking at.

"I don't think he can lose it from here. He's going to be a two-time major champion. He's going to be a superstar of the game, which he already is, but he's a real superstar now."

McIlroy was more circumspect in the aftermath of his triumph, noting concisely: "To win my second major and get to world No. 1 all in the same day is very special."

US wildcard race already run?

Will Rickie Fowler be picked for US? © Getty Images
  • We now know eight of the 12 players that will make up the United States Ryder Cup team - but who will get one of captain Davis Love III's four wildcards? There are a number of high-profile candidates waiting on Love's final decision, but it looks like the American may have already made up his mind.
  • On Monday the former US PGA champion stressed experience and the ability to integrate with the rest of the team as the key qualities he was looking for - name-checking Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk in particular. If those three are all selected that would leave just one other wildcard going - and Rickie Fowler, American golf's rising star, would seem the obvious choice (not only does he have a great Ryder Cup record, he gets on very well with many of the members of the team).
  • That would leave Dustin Johnson on the outside, something few would have predicted at the start of the process. Injured earlier this season (and, if you believe tour rumour, getting in trouble with the PGA), the big-hitting and uber-talented Johnson could find himself on the outside looking in.
  • Love did say, however, that good form over the next three weeks could sway his decision. A win for Johnson (or Brandt Snedeker, or Bo Van Pelt) might change everything, then.

Fewer fans than usual around the world saw the Northern Irishman in full flight, however, as the closing ceremony for London 2012 dragged on across the pond. Matters were even worse over the opening three rounds, however - with Usain Bolt in action on the Saturday and a plethora of finals on Thursday and Friday, events on the Ocean Course almost went by unnoticed.

Which is something of a shame, because the US PGA really isn't much of a major to begin with. Just as it comes last in the season, so it comes last in the pecking order. The Masters has the beauty, the US Open has the difficulty, the Open Championship has the history. The US PGA has ... not a lot.

It invites as many of the world's top 100 players as it can (which is why runner-up, and then world No. 98, David Lynn got in the field) and is now frequently played on courses that aren't quite 'good' enough to host a US Open. That's about it. Hardly a roll-call of excellence and excitement.

Indeed, in many ways it's more akin to the various World Golf Championship events than the other three majors.

Yes, the Ryder Cup meant that a scheduling conflict with the Olympics really could not be avoided, but that only deflects the fact that the US PGA tournament is a sorry excuse for a major. It really could do with a shake-up, because at the moment it is quickly becoming irrelevant.

The opposite can be said for McIlroy, of course. Whatever the debate about the US PGA as a major, victory has undoubtedly elevated him to a new level. He is the man everyone looks to now; he is the player every US golfer will want to face (and beat) at Medinah at the end of September.

Tiger Woods included.

US captain Davis Love III admitted as much earlier this week, when asked about the prospect of a Tiger-Rory Ryder Cup singles showdown.

"He [Woods] would probably like that, it would be a great match," Love said. "I'm sure they both would relish that.

"We have got some guys on our team that I'm sure would love to take him on. Because you want to play the best. You want to play a guy that's hot, and I know Tiger or Phil [Mickelson] or any of those guys would love to try it."

This week was great for McIlroy. But for the tournament he won, it only served to spark more questions about it's real value.

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