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Devil Ball Golf

Rory McIlroy opens with 4-under 66 at the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy / Getty Images

Sitting in the press room following his Accenture Match Play victory, Hunter Mahan was asked if playing Rory McIlroy in the final, and keeping him from moving to the top spot in the world rankings, were motivating factors when he stepped on the first tee on Sunday.

"Deep down you wanted to postpone that crowning of the No.1 player in the world for Rory (laughter)," Mahan said. "He'll get there.  I mean he's phenomenal.  He's really talented.  He'll be No.1 eventually.  I'm not worried about it.  I'm sure he's not."

[Related: Hunter Mahan's 10 rules for finishing a great round]

Mahan isn't the only one who feels the 22-year-old phenom from Northern Ireland is on the verge of greatness. Even though McIlroy missed out on a golden opportunity to pick up a big win and the No. 1 ranking in the same week, like Mahan mentioned, no one, not even Rory, is worried about becoming the best player in the world.

That's because he's probably already there. Luke Donald certainly deserves credit for what he did last season, but the guy is still missing something that Rory McIlroy has: a major championship. And considering the way Rory's been playing recently, you have to wonder when the floodgates are going to open up and he's going to start winning tournaments in bunches.

He appears primed to make some noise again this week, after he opened with a 4-under 66 on Thursday at the Honda Classic that included going 1-under through the "Bear Trap" at PGA National. It was a solid round, sure. But considering the way he's been playing recently, it shouldn't come as a surprise that McIlroy's vying for another title this week.

Simply put, the kid has been ridiculously consistent over the last five months, with nine top 5 finishes in his last 10 stroke-play starts (including 2 wins); the other was an 11th place finish at the Dubai World Championship. That's the kind of consistency only a handful guys in the world are capable of doing for long stretches. And for the most part, he's doing it all under the radar.

Since last year's U.S. Open, we turned out attention to Luke Donald going after the European-PGA Tour money list double and, at the start of this season, Tiger making his return to the golf world after he broke a two-year tournament drought. It seemed like everyone passed over McIlroy.

[Related: Tiger Woods stares down golf writer over ex-coach's tell-all book]

But after after the start he's had this season, it's time we gave the kid the respect he deserves. McIlroy is a star, plain and simple. He's going to be around for a long time, and while we some of us still pine away for Phil and Tiger to come back, we need to realize that the future of golf, the kid who's going to take this sport to the next level, is staring us right in the face.

McIlroy needs to win; that has to figure into this equation. But the way he's playing at the moment? Well, you have to believe it's only a matter of time before that starts happening on a consistent basis.

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