Coming off back-to-back major wins, Rory McIlroy has taken a stranglehold of the top spot in the golf world as he enters his prime. The 25-year-old Northern Irishman has now won four majors in his young career, and he isn’t done yet. With Tiger Woods having a difficult time staying healthy, it is conceivable to think we may not get another chance to see him win another major in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus. Unfortunately for McIlroy, he will have a hard time living up to the legend of Woods and the way he revolutionized the sport.
As we leave the Tiger era and enter the Rory era in golf, the game has had a resurgence among its viewers. With Woods on the back nine of his career, the golf world was waiting for someone to take the reins as the face of the sport. McIlroy has done just that and has shown it with the latest ratings coming out from the 2014 PGA Championship. Viewer ratings jumped up 36 percent from last year and 54 percent from 2012.
The golf world is enamored with McIlroy, as they should be, but he is following up one of the greatest careers of all time. This is similar to what Lou Gehrig went through during his remarkable career. No matter how well Gehrig played, Babe Ruth always stole the spotlight.
Woods is a once-in-a-lifetime player. Bursting onto the scene in 1997 with his first major win at The Masters, Woods caught the attention of the entire nation. His legend grew as he demolished golf records winning major after major. Everyone, even those who were not fans of golf, sat around the television on major Sundays in hopes of catching a glimpse of the greatness that was Woods, and he didn’t disappoint.
Woods made a mockery of the game. Hitting monster drives, sticking the ball within inches of the pin from the from the fairway, chipping in from off the fringe and sinking 40 foot putts that were impossible to read with regularity, Woods always gave the fans watching around the world something to cheer about — and cheer they did. The PGA Tour had never seen the turnout of fans attending events as they did when Woods was on the prowl. The roar from the gallery as Woods fist-pumped after hitting a miraculous shot could send a chill down your spine.
The first prominent African-American golfer, the young Woods gained fans in every demographic like no other golfer had ever done before. Little kids all over the world, regardless of race or class standing, wanted to play golf like Woods. Golf courses started re-designing their courses in order to “Tiger proof” them, television ratings shot through the roof and local golf courses everywhere saw a massive rise in individuals wanting to play the game Woods made look easy.
Once Woods launched his own brand, everyone, from the weekend hackers to the club pros, had some sort of garment or equipment with a TW on it. He single-handedly launched Nike into the stratosphere of elite golf manufacturers. Woods was the first true icon the golf world had witnessed since Nicklaus. He was the sports star who was a real superhero to an entire generation of fans.
McIlroy, who needs a win at The Masters to complete the career grand slam, is on his way to greatness. However, he is fighting an incredibly difficult uphill battle in following up a player who has, what may be, the single-most meaningful career in the history of their sport. It probably isn’t fair to compare the two golfers, but it will inevitably happen. All McIlroy can do is keep winning and hope that fans of the game realize that even though he isn’t Woods, he is still going to go down as one of the greats in golf history.