When Tiger Woods was the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer he would go off on astonishing streaks during which nobody else had a chance.
Now, Rory McIlroy is No. 1 in the world and the way he has played of late leaves us to wonder if anyone can touch him.
The way last weekend’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational ended in Akron, it may just be about time to signal the end of one era and the start of another in professional golf.
With four wins since last November, and two in as many starts, McIlroy will take center stage this week at the PGA Championship in Louisville. But he isn’t claiming an era of his own.
“I said at the start of the year that golf was looking for someone to put their hand up and sort of become one of the dominant players in the game,” McIlroy said Tuesday at Valhalla Golf Club. “I felt like I had the ability to do that, and it’s nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel like I should be, which is near the top of the world rankings and competing in majors and winning golf tournaments.
“I’m not necessarily sure you can call that an era or the start of an era. I’m just really happy with where my golf game is at the minute and I just want to try and continue that for as long as possible.”
McIlroy is 25 years old, healthy, focused, and playing the best golf of his life, so that No. 1 ranking could last awhile.
Meanwhile, Woods is 38, been through life’s wringer, and now is battling another chapter in a book of injuries.
While McIlroy was rallying to beat Sergio Garcia — who else? — at Firestone on Sunday, Woods was walking off the course after eight holes, painfully changing out of his golf shoes, and heading for the nearest private airstrip.
It was a recurrence of a back injury that forced him to undergo surgery in April.
He obviously came back too soon to play in his own tournament, the Quicken Loans National, in June, where he missed the cut. Later, he finished 69th at the British Open, 23 strokes off McIlroy’s winning score.
While no official announcement had been made by Tuesday night, it is unlikely Woods will attempt to play in this week’s PGA and may shut it down until after the Ryder Cup in September, if not longer. U.S. captain Tom Watson, who was already iffy regarding a spot on the Ryder team for Tiger, said the latest back injury “doesn’t bode well right now” for Woods’ inclusion on the team.
In reader polls taken the last couple days by ESPN.com, 66 percent voted “no” when asked if we would ever again see a healthy Tiger for an extended period. Nearly as many — 63 percent — felt he would never win another major championship.
He has 14 of them, the most recent being the 2008 U.S. Open. There have been 25 majors played since and Woods has missed six of them because of injuries. He has either missed the cut or finished outside the top-10 in 10 others.
Back when Tiger owned the majors — he won seven in a stretch of 11 such tournaments from 1999-2002 — and was in hot pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, Nicklaus himself felt it was a fait accompli unless, he said, physical ailment(s) might derail Woods.
That certainly seems to be the case. It may even signal the end of an era.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.