There was the enormity of what was happening, and what was being said, around him. McIlroy won the U.S. Open title – a victory he kept referring to as his “first major championship,” as if more are in the offing – in a style that fell completely in line with his potential and promise, and felt very much like history.
He set an Open record at 16 under par. He set an Open record with his 72-hole total of 268. At 22, he became the youngest major champion since Tiger Woods. Two months after downright blowing the Masters, he completely owned the next major to be played, leading by three after one round, six after two, eight after three and eight to win.
So it seemed, immediately, the question became: What next? For that, go to the man who knows him better than any other.
“After the Masters, after winning this, I think he’ll just go on,” Gerry McIlroy said. “He’ll go on leaps and bounds. He should do well. And he’s keen to do well. He’ll keep working, if I know Rory.”
There are numbers that must be dealt with, and they are worth stating. But given the reaction – from the galleries, from his peers, from his predecessors – this was more significant than sheer mathematics. What McIlroy accomplished here may not have the social overtones of Woods’s command performance at the 1997 Masters, nor the degree of dominance of Woods’s win in the 2000 U.S. Open, when he beat the field by 15 strokes – a mark McIlroy couldn’t match Sunday.
Consider, though, the figure McIlroy is now cast against – none other than Woods, this Open’s most notable absentee – and it is solid evidence that what he pulled off could portend a change for his sport. For 15 years, Woods’s presence and performance has determined whether golf is up or down, in or out.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever seen,” said Graeme McDowell, McIlroy’s countryman and the 2010 U.S. Open champ. “He’s a breath of fresh air for the game, and perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar. Maybe Rory is it.”
To be sure, McIlroy slayed a rain-softened Congressional course that laid along River Road without so much as a jackknife to defend itself. Still, he not only became the first player to ever reach 13 under at any point in a U.S. Open, but he became the first to 14, 15, 16 and 17 under as well. His four-round total blew away the previous record of 272, accomplished four times, most recently by Jim Furyk in 2003.
He made four scores of bogey or worse all week. With his 2-under 69 Sunday, he became the third player – joining Lee Trevino in 1968 at Oak Hill and Lee Janzen in 1993 at Baltusrol – to post four rounds in the 60s. On and on.