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Rory McIlroy's rise to No. 1 in world ranking seemed inevitable | Golf
Several peers aren't surprised golfer Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is ranked No. 1 in the world at age 22.
The Associated Press
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rory McIlroy made quite a first impression in America, even when he lost.
He made his pro debut on American soil in the Arizona desert at the 2009 Match Play Championship. As a 19-year-old, McIlroy advanced to the quarterfinals and threw everything he had at Geoff Ogilvy until losing on the 17th hole.
Ogilvy, who went on to win his third World Golf Championship event that weekend, recalls riding back to the clubhouse with his caddie, Allistair "Squirrel" Matheson, both of them realizing the landscape was about to change.
"I played so good that day," Ogilvy said Sunday morning from his home in California. "I birdied 15, 16 and 17 and halved all three holes. We were way under par that day. Both Squirrel and I said, 'This guy is going to be unbelievable.' And then Squirrel said, 'If you want to be No. 1, you're going to have to be better than this guy.' Because not many people in the world will be better than that."
Never mind Tiger Woods was No. 1 in the world by miles, and would win seven times that year.
There was something special about this freckled-face kid with brown curls spilling out from under his cap, who played the game with a delightful mixture of joy and reckless abandon.
"Since that first day I saw him play, he was a level above us," Ogilvy said.
Their premonition came true when McIlroy won the Honda Classic in fashion befitting the No. 1 player in the world.
He didn't flinch when Woods went birdie-eagle on the last two holes for a 62, his best final round ever. McIlroy could hear the roar from a mile away, gathered himself and rolled in a birdie putt. He followed with three par saves over the last five holes for a two-shot victory, elevating him to No. 1 in the world.
McIlroy became the 16th player to become No. 1, ending the 40-week reign of Englishman Luke Donald, who sent a congratulatory message on Twitter by telling Boy Wonder, "Enjoy the view!"
McIlroy is the second-youngest player to be No. 1 in the world ranking — Woods was 21 when he first reached the top after the U.S. Open in 1997. And it should be noted Woods only stayed at No. 1 for one week. After trading places with Ernie Els, Greg Norman and eventually David Duval, Woods finally established himself as the best by staying at No. 1 for more than five years.
It is too early to call McIlroy the next Tiger.
Even though there are similarities in their age, it is worth pointing out their differences.
McIlroy reached No. 1 in his 115th tournament that counts toward the ranking; Woods reached the top in his 21st tournament.
McIlroy won for the fifth time in his career, including a U.S. Open he won at Congressional by eight shots with a record score (268). When Woods played 115 tournaments, he already had won five majors and 32 tournaments around the world.
Four players have been No. 1 since Woods abdicated his throne 16 months ago — Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Donald and McIlroy. The difference is that McIlroy is so young, and already has accomplished so much.
He might have a modest five victories, but three were in the United States, including a major.
"He's got a game that people think is world No. 1," three-time major champ Padraig Harrington said. "That's why nobody is going to have any complaints about Rory being world No. 1. He won a major at a young age. He's got the game."
Not since Woods has anyone shown this much potential at such a young age. McIlroy has worked hard on his short game, particularly his putting inside 6 feet, which had kept him from winning more. In his last 12 tournaments, he has won three times (one of them the Shanghai Masters, which was unofficial) and been out of the top five once.
Such consistency leads to a No. 1 ranking. McIlroy has consistency and power, a lethal combination.
"He's a very good player, very young, still learning," Westwood said. "I think he's got a fairly bright future."