The Next Tiger?

Tiger Woods' private life dominated headlines for the best part of 2010, and unjustly so. One man was making the headlines on and off the course, leaving journalists little time for anyone other than the international golf icon. And the players felt it, too.

There hasn't been a single player to win more than one major since. Several men have occupied the number one spot in recent times, and sometimes getting there without taking a major. Does this diminish the value of the majors? Does it mean they aren't as important in terms of ranking points? No, of course not. It just means that everyone wants to be the next Tiger, but no one is quite good enough.

Or maybe they are. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is a great young player, and he proved it at this year's U.S. Open. That one should have been his second. He led the previous major, the Masters, on the final day, and by four shots, too, but threw his lead away with a disastrous final round to finish T15 for the tournament.

At the time, people said McIlroy simply didn't have what it took to be a major winner. He had the shots, certainly. He had the skill and talent, but he didn't have it between the ears. Mentally, he wasn't strong enough.

Those thoughts were quickly dispelled as McIlroy banished the regrets of the Masters and shot a 268 aggregate score to finish 16 under par to in a record breaking victory. It was the victory he should have had at the Masters.

But it showed his critics he really does have what it takes, and when he is on form, he is better than the world, and by a long, long way.

At the time of writing, he is No. 2 in the world rankings, after coming fourth in the WCG-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, and he is on the way up. Only Luke Donald of England stands between him and the number one spot. Donald has a great record in smaller tournaments, but has never hit his best form for the majors, as has been the case with so many other players.

McIlroy will be eagerly awaiting the next major — the Masters in Augusta next April — where he will hope to wipe the slate clean and to take the title he should have taken this year. At just 22, he's mature for his age, and with another year under his belt after the biggest throwaway of his career, he know he has what it takes, and he will be confident of keeping a cool head throughout the tournament.

If McIlroy takes the lead in any of the majors in 2012, expect him to hand on to it. He might not end up being as prolific a major winner as Woods, but he's certainly going to dominate the next few years.

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