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McIlroy became the first Northern Irishman to win a U.S. Open since ... Graeme McDowell won last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The following month Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa won the British Open. Then Martin Kaymer of Germany won the PGA Championship. In April, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa won the Masters. That's five straight majors won by non-Americans. Maybe you're asking yourself, "What's up with you, American golf?" Ask it if you like, but the fact is, there is no such thing as American golf anymore, except for the week of the Ryder Cup. There's no Asian golf, there's no European golf. There's a global economy, there's a global water supply and there's global golf. The No. 1--ranked player in the world, Luke Donald, is an Englishman who splits his time between Chicago and South Florida. On the course on Saturday an American amateur of Korean ancestry who missed the cut, David Chung, imitated McIlroy's unique driver-swing hip action. Of the record 20 players who finished under par—soft greens from a wet spring led to low scoring—only nine hailed from the U.S. Does it really matter? McIlroy had an Old Glory headcover on his putter last week. (The putter under it worked quite well. He had only one three-putt, on the 71st green.) He said the fans were so supportive of him, "it felt like a home match."
Sir Nick Faldo, the English golfer who works for CBS and lives in Florida, watched Sunday's golf from a waterfront lodge in British Columbia. He traveled to China with McIlroy when Rory was 15 and has admired him ever since. "It's global golf now," Faldo said. "The players accept that. Where that hasn't been accepted yet is in the media."
McIlroy played his Saturday and Sunday rounds with Y.E. Yang, a Korean who lives in Dallas and who ran down Woods in the 2009 PGA. Yang's caddie, Michael Bestor, and Faldo both made the same observation last week: McIlroy has the ability to, as Faldo put it, "get inside himself, play a shot, then come out of it and let people in." Bestor said that ability allowed McIlroy to be embraced by the crowds.
Of course golf fans dig the long ball and McIlroy is long. Last week his average drive traveled 310.6 yards, seventh in the field. He spoke repeatedly about how Congressional "suited" him. Well, it would. Congressional was a big, long, soft course that welcomed the high, long, drawing tee shots on at least 11 holes. McIlroy was drooling. Another course like that is Augusta, and you'd have to think he'll have lots of chances to win there over the next, oh, 20 or 25 years.
McIlroy has a generous spirit. When he sees Faldo, he asks about his kids. Earlier this month McIlroy went to Haiti as a UNICEF ambassador and hung out with Haitian kids for whom access to soap and hot water is a matter of life and death. On his way to Congressional he spent two days at Pine Valley, playing with friends, and when he found out his caddie was on the golf team at North Carolina, he invited him to the practice tee for a two-hour wedge session. Raising his only child, Gerry McIlroy instilled this credo in Rory: "It's nice to be nice. And it doesn't cost you a penny." Gerry and his wife, Rosie, raised a nice kid.
Rory knows all about the Earl-Tiger hug when Tiger won the '97 Masters. He was eight. Tiger was his hero and Rory was once just another kid chasing him down for an autograph on a visit to Ireland. On Sunday night McIlroy was asked about the inevitable, the many sentences, written and spoken, in which his name and Tiger's name would both be mentioned.
"When you win a major quite early in your career, everyone is going to draw comparisons, it's natural," McIlroy said. "It would be nice, obviously, for him to be healthy again and get his knee and his Achilles in shape and be back out on the golf course, because he does bring a little something extra to tournaments. He's Tiger Woods. I'm simply happy to be sitting here with the trophy that has his name on it."
That's honesty, not modesty. Tiger Woods has an immense body of work. Rory McIlroy is only starting out, really. But you have to win your first before you can win your second. One's in the book, and it was great. Onward.
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