You’ll have to excuse Padraig Harrington for repeating himself, but the 2008 PGA titleholder wants to be sure you know that all Rory McIlroy has to do to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships is win one grand slam event per season for the next 16.
After McIlroy’s cakewalk to an eight-shot rout of the PGA Championship field at Kiawah Island on Sunday, Harrington’s oft-repeated prediction for his young mate may just be the piece of cake he believes it to be.
“I said two years ago, when [McIlroy] lost at the Masters, that he could challenge Jack’s record, and now he’s won one in each of the last two years,” Harrington told reporters after McIlroy birdied the 72nd hole on Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course for a bogey-free, final-round 66 and a 13-under total that earned him the second major of his career. “If he keeps winning one a year, he’s going to...be competitive for another 25 years so he doesn’t need to win one a year. He’s on track [to surpass Nicklaus], let’s say.”
If Harrington, from Dublin, Ireland, sounds like a broken record about what he believes Northern Irishman McIlroy can accomplish before he hangs up his spikes, it’s because it’s a tune he’s whistled for some time now. He even made McIlroy blush during his U.S. Open romp at Congressional Country Club last year when the young Ulsterman caught wind of how Harrington was bragging on him.
“Oh, Paddy, Paddy, Paddy,” an embarrassed McIlroy laughed when we relayed to him how Harrington expected him to get to 19 before Woods.
"You know, I'm still looking for my first [major victory]," McIlroy said at the time. "As I said before this week, it's nice to have all these complimentary things said about you, but until you actually do these things, they don't mean anything."
Actually, now that McIlroy’s won his second major title by the same dominating margin as his first, maybe they do.
McIlroy, sporting a red power shirt that had been Woods’ Sunday signature since he bid the world hello, is four months younger than Tiger was when he earned his second of 14 majors. With a 67-66 finish to his PGA victory, McIlroy brought the most difficult course in North America to its knees as Woods -- who bizarrely claimed his happy-go-lucky attitude on Saturday (“I was too relaxed)” cost him -- once again fell out of contention on the weekend of a major.
For sure, the beat-down McIlroy has put on his colleagues in his two major triumphs has a certain record-setting Tiger-esque quality to it and has caught the eye of one Eldrick Woods.
“He's very good. We all know the talent he has,” Woods told reporters after a final-round even-par 72 and a 2-under finish. “He's got all the talent in the world to do what he's doing. And this is the way that Rory can play. When he gets it going, it's pretty impressive to watch.”
Especially impressive since McIlroy gave little indication during the season that he was ready to follow up last year’s major win with another any time soon. A solid start to the year included a win at the Honda Classic in March, but three missed cuts in six tournaments prior to the PGA had pundits buzzing that the young lad’s private life -- particularly his jet-setting with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki -- was wreaking havoc with his career.
Instead, McIlroy took a three-shot lead after the rain-delayed third round and never looked back. Ian Poulter made a surprising run with five consecutive birdies to start his final round, but eventually faltered and had to settle for a share of third place. David Lynn, a 38-year-old journeyman from England who was playing in the U.S. for the first time, came in second.
McIlroy, who has been working with putting maestro Dave Stockton, wielded his flat stick with deadly accuracy, much like a younger Tiger Woods did in his majors-winning heyday. In grabbing the final major of the season, McIlroy also joined a select group of players -- Woods, Harrington, and Phil Mickelson -- who have won majors in successive years over the past 20 years.
"It means an awful lot to look at the names on that trophy, and to put my name alongside them is very special," McIlroy said.
With the win, McIlroy also reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in his sport, a ranking formerly the sole domain of a certain 36-year-old who sat atop the golf world for a record 623 weeks.
You know, maybe Paddy’s onto something.