When we watch an impressive sports event, we're prone to think that what we're seeing is exceptional, even incomparable. It's normal enough; we want to believe we're the ones lucky enough to be watching a moment of grand historical significance. More often than not, once the moment cools, so too does the belief that we've seen something transcendent. "Impressive" is not the same thing as epic; "outstanding play" alone doesn't make history.
That said ... we've just seen history made.
There aren't enough superlatives. Rory McIlroy, the Northern Ireland lad all of 22 years old, has just put the final touches on the most astonishing U.S. Open in golf history. Consider just a few of the marks he set on Sunday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda:
• His 16-under finish for a total of 268 strokes shattered the records for lowest U.S. Open score in history, previously 272, and lowest score below par, previously 12-under.
• He's one of only five players to turn in all four rounds under par, and this is one of only six Opens where a player led from beginning to end.
• He scored higher than par on only four holes, and three-putted only once, on the second-to-last hole of the tournament.
• At 22 years and one month, he's the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923, and over the last 80 years, there's only been one younger major winner than him: Tiger Woods in 1997 at the Masters.
• He didn't set a record for the widest distance between himself and the field -- that would be Tiger Woods' 15, set in 2000, and McIlroy was "only" eight strokes ahead -- but the outcome was almost never in doubt from sometime on Thursday.
McIlroy didn't have a single weak spot his entire week. His drives either reached the fairway or remained within reach of the greens. His approaches were so perfect that he rarely needed to putt very far. But when he did putt, he didn't miss.
He was simply flawless, this-doesn't-happen flawless, cheat-codes-in-the-video-game-enabled flawless. Indeed, the only reason why most of the golf world didn't just simply throw up their hands and give him the tournament Friday afternoon was McIlroy's infamous meltdown on the back nine of Augusta. That happened only two months ago, but it already seems like dusty history, so effective was McIlroy's demolition of this course.
Credit McIlroy's resilient mentality for this; he could have crumbled under the weight of that afternoon. But he shouldered the blame and demonstrated exceptional sportsmanship, even posing with winner Charl Schwartzel as Schwartzel wore the green jacket. And now, with one tournament, he's incinerated that "choker" label and scattered its ashes to the wind.
Generally, we're in too much of a hurry to crown players the "next Tiger," the "next Jordan," or the like. But we haven't seen this kind of domination on a major level since Woods himself. McIlroy has little in common with Woods besides overwhelming talent; where Woods is coolly remote, McIlroy is a rumpled, personable goofball. He's not the "next Tiger"; there won't ever be another. He's exceptional all on his own, and that's enough.
We may be talking of McIlroy for the next 30 years, or this may be the high point of his career. But on this day, he delivered one of the great moments in golf history. At this moment, he's the best in the game, and there's nobody even close.
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