As the kid from Northern Ireland races away from the field at the U.S. Open, his mental resolve and outspoken demeanor might remind sports fans of another young star with a big mouth and bigger talent.
THE BIG COLLAPSE
Everyone remember what happened at the Masters. McIlroy was leading the tournament since the first round. Eighteen holes stood between him and a green jacket, with four shots cushioning his lead. He didn't start well. Putts didn't fall. His swing showed signs of nerves. Then came the gut wrenching triple-bogey on the 10th hole. Like some shark feeding frenzy the pack surged forward and swallowed the poor kid before he ever recovered. He ended his round ten strokes behind the leader. The collapse was painful to watch, and even worse to endure.
Tennis legend and Hall of Famer John McEnroe can empathize with him. He too knows what it's like to have history sitting in his lap and letting it slip away. Back in 1981, McEnroe was the scourge of tennis. He epitomized the punk rock movement of the late seventies with his wild hair and sudden bouts of rage. That year at Wimbledon, McEnroe faced off against his great rival Bjorn Borg. Through three sets Borg had the New Yorker running scared. Fans in attendance were anxious for the Swedish phenom to put McEnroe in his place. They never expected the classic fourth set where McEnroe fought to a 18-16 set win that repulsed Borg's victory. McEnroe thought he had his first title in hand. Like McIlroy, he thought too soon. One set later Borg was Wimbledon champion for the fifth straight year.
Fans thought McEnroe would never recover from the loss. He proved them wrong. Later that year at the U.S. Open, the last Grand Slam Borg had yet to win; McEnroe overcame his demons and defeated Borg. That win became the precursor to his first Wimbledon championship the next year. Suddenly McEnroe's antics were cool because he was winning. Fans chalked it up to being part of his game, a game that dethroned a tennis legend in Bjorn Borg and went on to capture seven Grand Slam titles.
McIlroy knows a thing or two about opening his mouth in front of cameras. In 2010, he called out Tiger Woods, proclaiming any of his European teammates fancied their chances against the 14-time major champion. At the time people thought he was insane for saying such a thing. A year later and golf fans are realizing how prophetic he was. They're also learning just how good a golfer Rory is. Perhaps he learned a few things in his time since the Masters collapse. Through his first two rounds, he doesn't have a four-stroke lead at the U.S. Open. He has an eight-shot lead. John McEnroe might be proud to know that the young Irishman is doing something he did in his prime too: using his worst defeat to make the next championship performances even better.
McIlroy hasn't won the U.S. Open yet, but if he's anything like McEnroe, then it's just a matter of waiting until Sunday.