- US PGA Championship
McIlroy's possibilities are endlessAugust 9, 2014 « Injury-hit Woods misses cut as Mickelson shines | Birthday boy Federer books semi-final spot »
It is 14 years from now. Rory McIlroy is 39. Think of the possibilities.
Has McIlroy won the 15-20 majors that the great Jack Nicklaus predicted he would back in August of 2014? Has Nike's Phil Knight named a grandchild after him? Or a subsidiary? Has his best-selling autobiography, "Rors: Fer Sure," entered its 49th printing?
Or has McIlroy been stuck at 16 major victories, three shy of breaking Nicklaus' record? Has his chronic knee pain caused him to miss another tournament? Has the retirement of his long-time swing coach, Michael Bannon, created issues?
McIlroy is at the brink of greatness. Or near greatness. Or whatever you call what he's doing these days, which is pretty much giving dog commands to the rest of the tournament fields: Sit ... stay ... roll over.
This week, it's the US PGA Championship. Before that it was the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Before that it was the Open Championship.
The world No.1 is playing like there is no No.2. He enters Saturday's third round of the PGA Championship in prime position to win his fourth career major, his third consecutive tournament and his second consecutive major. Did I mention he's only 25?
"The last month has been fun," he said, sheepishly.
The last month has been semi-historic. The last month has been dominant. The last month is why we're talking about eight months from now: the 2015 Masters, when McIlroy could go for a career Grand Slam before his 26th birthday.
On Friday he shot a 4-under-par 67 on a rain-softened Valhalla Golf Club course. It wasn't as pretty as his first-round 66, but it did reveal another layer of McIlroy's golf character.
First of all, the Freaky Fridays are gone. Remember those, when McIlroy would follow up a low round with a South Dakota freeway score (75)? Not any more.
McIlroy isn't pacing himself. He's aggressively patient. He remembers what happened at Augusta National three years ago, when he had a 4-stroke lead going into the final round - and shot 80.
"I've went 'protection mode' once in my career and it was the 2011 Masters," he said. "That didn't work out very well. So I said to myself I'll never do that again."
McIlroy lives and learns. He ended his engagement in late May with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and then won a tournament that week. He immersed himself in the game.
"I guess, what else do I have to do?" he said. "I get up in the morning. I go to the golf course. I go to the gym. It just sort of - it's just my life at the minute. It obviously works pretty well, so I'm going to keep doing it."
He is playing with the confidence of someone who knows he can win, maybe even should win. He isn't allergic to leads, pressure or trophy presentations.
Look at these numbers: McIlroy is a combined 26-under in his past six rounds of majors. And if he wins the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday, only two active players would have more career majors than McIlroy: Phil Mickelson (5), Tiger Woods (14).
Fourteen years ago we were talking about Woods the same way we're beginning to talk about McIlroy. The 2000 season is when Woods went Secretariat and won the US Open by 15 shots, when he won The Open by eight strokes and won the US PGA in a play-off.
It was Woods' fifth major victory and it was won here at Valhalla.
Now it is McIlroy who is seemingly unbeatable - or, at the very least, unshakable. His peers recognise greatness when they see it.
"There's nothing wrong with his game: putting, chipping, bunker, whatever it is," said Martin Kaymer, who won his second career major in June at Pinehurst. "He hits it probably 20, 25 yards longer than anyone else. It's impressive. He's definitely the best player in the world ... It's very difficult to beat him."
That becomes the next question: Can McIlroy close out another major? The answer is, "Duh."
"You've seen before when I got on a good run like this, I can sort of keep it going for a little while," he said. "Hopefully, I can keep it [going] longer than I have in the past."
Thirty-six holes remain. That's a half-life in golf. The golf gods could tie the laces of his shoes together and McIlroy could fall face-first. But I doubt it.
"When I'm playing like this, it's obviously very enjoyable and I can't wait to get back out on the course again - and do the same thing all over again," he said.
McIlroy might not leave here with another silver adult beverage container, but it won't be because he folded like a Medicus. If anything, he'll try to win big. That's who he is now - and who he still might be 14 years from now.