The third wheel in Rory's Thursday-Friday pairing was Dustin Johnson, 27, who was simply run over by McIlroy, trailing by 15 strokes after 36 holes. Among the game's young players only the überathletic Johnson has been thought to have as much upside as McIlroy. But for Johnson and all the other would-be young bucks, potential is now no longer enough. It's time to produce, and they know it. "There's definitely pressure to keep up," says Kaymer, 26. "The golf Rory played here was unbelievable. He has set a new standard for us. It's inspiring, for sure."
Not for everybody. Donald, who's ascension to No. 1 in the World Ranking without the benefit of a major championship victory had highlighted the sport's recent parity, was asked on Sunday if he was inspired or demoralized. "Both," Donald, 33, said with a smile.
As spectacularly as McIlroy played, no one was really surprised by his outburst. "This has been a long time coming," says Paul Casey, who had been awed by a 17-year-old McIlroy when the two met during a casual game years ago. "He had more shots than I did!" says Casey. "He simply attacked the golf course." In the last 11 months McIlroy has brought his pedal-to-the-metal game to the majors, shooting a 63 in the British Open at St. Andrews, a 65 at Augusta National and 16 under par in the U.S. freaking Open. Now that he's learned to close, "Rory has to be the favorite at every major for a good long while," says Charley Hoffman. "He's earned that respect."
McIlroy's riveting play—and the charisma and likability he projected—took the Tour back to a simpler time when one player drove the narrative for an entire sport. Does golf need another dominant player to emerge? "Yes and no," says Hoffman. "If you've been watching the tournaments this year, there have been so many exciting finishes. It's been pretty cool that there hasn't really been a favorite from week to week. A lot of new guys have had a shot. But for casual fans I think they need a dominant player to focus on. They need to know what the story line is."
McIlroy's victory will also further complicate the game's geopolitics. He famously skipped this year's Players, a protest of sorts against the PGA Tour's membership requirements. On Sunday night McIlroy's hegemonic agent, Chubby Chandler, did his usual saber-rattling, saying his client would like to become a Tour member but only if the requirement to play a minimum of 15 tournaments is relaxed. Given the sudden demand to see the young master play more Stateside, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will be under pressure to find a resolution that brings McIlroy into the fold.
Only time will tell if this U.S. Open is the high point of a good-but-not-great career—don't forget, Lee Janzen once shot 272 in a U.S. Open, only four strokes off McIlroy's pace—but the early indicators are promising. Says Casey, "He already has the bit that usually takes a long time: maturity. I don't know if that's something you're born with or it's simply really good parenting, but he has a tremendous attitude and perspective."
Even those preaching caution can't help but fret about what McIlroy's ascension means for the competition. "It's only his third win," says Donald. "He's not quite dominating the game yet, but he's going to be a tough force to reckon with."
Sorry, Luke, but he already is.
Now on GOLF.com
Who's hot and who's not? Check out Alan Shipnuck's Hot List every week at GOLF.com