It is telling that Rory McIlroy chose to wear red on Sunday at the PGA Championship and that he would have changed shirts if he had been paired with Tiger Woods, who traditionally wears red in the final round of a tournament. It tells that McIlroy is the standard-bearer for a young generation of golfers greatly inspired by Woods, deeply respectful of Woods and definitely not intimidated by him.
McIlroy, 23, is not all that far removed from being the kid who loved watching Woods play and dominate. But with two major championships on his own mantel, the young man from Northern Ireland is just looking to go his own way. No talk of chasing Woods and his 14 major titles, let alone Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.
After he won the Wanamaker Trophy at Kiawah Island a week and a half ago, McIlroy said that his goal for the past year had been to win his second major. Now his goal is to win his third.
Others might have their own measuring sticks. No matter which one they use, the intriguing part will be seeing just how good McIlroy turns out to be. An interesting case study will come tomorrow and Friday in the Barclays at Bethpage Black, when McIlroy and Woods play in the same group. Tee times in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs are determined by points standings and Woods and McIlroy are first and third, respectively.
"It's tough to say that Rory is a Tiger Woods-type player. Tiger Woods is a once-in-a-lifetime player and Rory McIlroy is at least a once-in-a-decade type player," said Graeme McDowell, McIlroy's countryman, friend and fellow U.S. Open champion. "I've been saying it for years, how good he is.
"He's going to be the player that kids look up to, you know, that kids measure their own wannabe games by," 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."
McIlroy is so far the best of an international group of young players -- Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa -- who have followed Woods' patterns of practice and workout regimens. They have the benefit of his example and, unlike Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and others, they do not have to deal with the scar tissue of having faced Woods when he was just about unbeatable.
The newest double-major winner has proven his resilience: recovering from an epic collapse at the 2011 Masters by winning his very next major in a rout. This year, he bounced back from criticism that he was enjoying celebrity status more than golf. The son of working- class parents who sacrificed a good deal to foster his golf, McIlroy has a knack for self-discipline. After the PGA win, he splurged. "Two Diet Cokes and a cookie," he said.
He also has shown a gracious streak. He instantly sent Adam Scott an encouraging text after the Australian botched the British Open in July. And when people were clamoring to compare McIlroy to you-know-who after his Woods-like blowout win in the 2011 U.S. Open, McIlroy said, "He's Tiger Woods. I'm just happy to be sitting here with the trophy that has his name on it."
The Barclays' defending champion is Dustin Johnson, 28, who has come close to winning at least two majors but has yet to win one. Johnson said of McIlroy's success: "I think it's great. I would like to see especially young guys playing well, winning majors. We need that.
"Rory's a good player. I played with him the first two days [of the PGA]. I also played with him the first two days of the U.S. Open he won last year," Johnson said, adding he is happy that he, unlike Woods, is not in a group with McIlroy this week.