AND still the plaudits roll in. Two days after becoming the second youngest world No 1 in golfing history, Rory McIlroy arrived here in Miami yesterday for the WGC Cadillac Championship with all chatter of his rise to the top only gaining in volume.
It had been some 48 hours for the 22-year-old. On Sunday in Palm Beach, McIlroy held off Tiger Woods to win the Honda Classic and so usurp Luke Donald. Then on Monday in New York he took a point off Maria Sharapova when invited on court at an exhibition match involving his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki. If the latter wasn't expected then the former most definitely was. Indeed, many of his rivals had been expecting his coronation for years.
Geoff Ogilvy, for instance, had been waiting since he first met him in 2009. The former world No 3 played McIlroy, then a teenager, in the quarter-finals of the World Match Play in Tucson. "Since that first day I saw him play, he was a level above us," said Ogilvy, who actually went on to win that week. "I played so good that day. I birdied 15, 16 and 17 - and halved all three holes. We were way under par. My caddie told me that day 'if you want to be No 1, you're going to have to be better than this guy'."
Donald will not only have to fare better than McIlroy here this week, but also finish in the top two to claim back his throne. While the Englishman is more than capable of doing so, many doubt whether it is possible for McIlroy to finish outside the top five on a course nicknamed "The Blue Monster".
"I'm sure Luke will come again and fight to get No 1 back, but he's dealing with a very special talent, a once-in-a-generation talent in Rory," said Colin Montgomerie "It shows how tough it is - Luke just had two bad tournaments, and he's no longer No 1."
But it is not just the battle at the top which is exciting Montgomerie. Woods's 62 provided overwhelming evidence that he is returning to his Sunday best, while Phil Mickelson's victory at Pebble Beach also appears notable. "We're probably looking at the best time golf's ever had," said Montgomerie. "The Masters this year is to be savoured, with our European top four, Woods and Mickelson, plus there's bound to be someone coming out of the pack because there always is. It'll be fantastic."
Obviously the showdown the majority wants to see is Rory versus Tiger. "Tiger made a hell of a push with his final-round 62 and it was back to the Woods of old," said Montgomerie. "We were all giving him the putt at the last - that's what we used to do and it's good that we're back to that feeling he's going to do something spectacular. Two years ago, Rory would not have dealt with that, but now he's winning and winning with ease. He's playing so well tee to green right now he's allowing himself the freedom of 'I'm two ahead, I'll just play in' and it was great to see."
Montgomerie acknowledges that McIlroy and his contemporaries are not in awe of Woods, but believes the intimidation could return. "If Woods progresses further in this comeback then you'll see more fear," he said.
"Tiger was maybe unlucky that he had someone as good as Rory. Tiger started nine shots behind and got to two behind, which was pretty good. His lowest final-round score in a PGA event as well, so things are clearly starting to happen. If Tiger wins this week he's third or fourth in the rankings and right back up there."
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