“He has a great team by his side, enormous talent and one of the best swings in the game. If he continues like this, there is no doubt that he has the potential to be number one in the world.” That was what the legendary Gary Player said of Rory McIlroy four years ago, and his prediction didn’t take long to become a reality. The young Northern Ireland star, just 23 years old, had a spectacular 2012 and has taken over the world – although Tiger is stalking him.

Not only did he win his second major in 2012 (US PGA) and four other events but he also ended the year as number one in the world and on both the European and US PGA Tours – as well as totalling $11,953,486 in prizemoney (more than €9 million) to beat the annual record previously held by Tiger Woods ($10,867,052 in 2007). Just a small pinch compared with the succulent contract he signed with Nike, more than $200 million for a 10-year period.

Life is clearly smiling on young Rory, who had an exceptional year in 2011 as well, securing his first – and emphatic – victory in a major, the US Open, where he produced a multiple recordbreaking performance not seen in a Grand Slam for many years.

This almost callow young man, with his distinctive ringlets, born in the Northern Ireland town of Holywood, became – at 22 years and 46 days – the youngest winner of a US Open title since the legendary Bobby Jones in 1923, and the youngest European Tour major champion since the Tour was formed, beating Severiano Ballesteros’ record of 22 years and 103 days at the 1979 British Open. Rory was close to beating the all-time record score in a major, 19-under-par, set by Woods in the 200 British Open at St. Andrews.

His feat at the Congressional Country Club, in Maryland, was embellished with some heart-stopping statistics: not only did he win by eight shots from second-placed Australian Jason Day but he carded a tournament record 16-under-par. No-one would have been surprised by his first Grand Slam victory – it had been predicted for a while – but few would have expected such a huge margin and overwhelming score.

With his 16-under 268, he broke the US Open record set by Woods, who was 12-under at Pebble Beach in 2000. He also became only the third player to card four rounds under 70 in the tournament. Even Woods, who missed the event because of injury and hasn’t won a major since the 2008 US Open, observed that Rory’s effort was “impressive playing”. It was his second victory on the US PGA Tour, following his win in the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship with a closing 62, beating Phil Mickelson by four shots. In 2011, he also finished joint third in the US PGA and British Open. His 63 was the lowest first round at St. Andrews in the history of the tournament, and he became the second 20-year-old to make the top-10 of the world rankings, after Sergio García.


If McIlroy’s 2011 season was magnificent, 2012 was exceptional. Apart from his role in Europe’s spectacular Ryder Cup triumph, he secured his first win of the year in March in the Honda Classic on the US Tour, after finishing second in the Accenture Match Play World Golf Championship in February. He was then third in his third US appearance of the year, the Cadillac World Golf Championship. His second win, after an unremarkable US Masters and British Open and missing the cut in the US Open, came in August at the US PGA Championship, his second major title. September was his most fruitful month in prizemoney terms, with victories in the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship, each with a $1,440,000 cheque for the winner, the same as the US PGA. His final title of the year was on the European Tour in November, the seasonending Dubai World Championship. On the European and US Tours, in addition to his five wins (six if you count the Ryder Cup) he had 10 top-10 finishes, including three runner-up and two third places. “I’ve achieved all my objectives. I’ve won my second major and I was a member of the glorious Ryder Cup team. It’s been my best year. You can’t ask for more,” he said after winning in Dubai.


The same as Tiger Woods, Rory was already showing golfing skills at two years of age – hitting balls 40 metres. It was no surprise that he went on to enjoy a brilliant amateur career, reaching the top of the World Amateur Ranking and becoming the youngest winner of the prestigious West of Ireland tournament and Irish Closed Championship, in 2005. McIlroy was, for many years, one of the young world-class golfing pups known for their solid consistency. In fact, in 2009 he became the youngest player in history to enter the top-50 of the world ranking. Born on 4 May 1989, McIlroy beat Sergio

García’s previous record, the Spaniard having reached the top-50 on 15 August 1999 following his duel with Tiger Woods in that year’s celebrated US PGA. The Northern Irishman made it into the top-50 at 19 years and 202 days.

Rory competed in his first European Tour event in 2005, just a few days after turning 16 and while an amateur. Also still not in the paid ranks, he caused a sensation with his magnificent three-under opening score in the 2007 British Open, the only bogey-free round and good enough for third place at the end of the day.

Following this brilliant amateur career, and being crowned number one in the world amateur rankings, he turned professional in autumn 2007, after having competed in the Walker Cup as a member of the Great Britain and Ireland team against the US.

He made the cut in his first event as a pro, and was third in his second, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, winning enough money to secure a place in the top 115 on the European Tour at the end of the season, thus becoming the youngest, and quickest, player to win a card for the following season – just two tournaments.

In his third appearance, the Open de Madrid Valle Romano, he was fourth. In January 2008 he entered the top-200 of the world rankings and the following year secured his first European Tour win, the Dubai Desert Classic. It was clear that this youngster had a bright future.

Now, in the new season that has just started, he will have to show that his results are not by chance but rather the rewards for exceptional quality. Just behind him in the world rankings is none other than Tiger Woods, albeit a fair way back (more than four points). The show – featuring these two fierce rivals – has just begun.