Thursday 27 October 2016

Paul Azinger: Rory McIlroy has 'it' but he's no Tiger

Former Masters champion believes that no-one can match what Woods achieved

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits a driver off the second tee during his practice round ahead of the 2015 Masters at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia April 8
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits a driver off the second tee during his practice round ahead of the 2015 Masters at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia April 8
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, talks with Tiger Woods

Major champion and former winning U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger says Rory McIlroy has a winning personality and is becoming the face of golf, but should not be compared to the game's latest king, Tiger Woods.

"I don't think Rory can ever beat Tiger," Azinger said under Augusta National's massive oak tree in front of the clubhouse as players set off for Masters practice.

"I don't think anyone can ever do what Tiger did. That level of domination is something that no one ever saw coming or expected to ever see again. I don't expect to see anybody do what Tiger did and I think that's an unfair bar for Rory."

That said, the 25-year-old McIlroy is on the brink of becoming second youngest, behind Woods, to register a career grand slam, needing a Masters win to complete the set and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods.

tops list

McIlroy has won the last two majors to bring his total to four. Woods has 14 and Nicklaus tops the list with 18.

"Rory is rapidly becoming the most famous guy in the game," said Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner, adding that part of McIlroy's broad appeal is his down to earth personality.

"He's a common guy that can do uncommon things. He's totally one of the guys -- that's reached superstar status."

Azinger, now a golf commentator, said McIlroy stands at the top of the emerging class of young players.

"He's as polished as anybody at the highest level and he's got four majors under his belt already so the burden of proof is gone."

McIlroy's popularity and accomplishments are bound to grow, according to both Azinger and nine-time majors winner Gary Player, who expects McIlroy to surpass him for most majors won by a non-American.

"Records are made to be broken, that's just natural," the South African said. "I expect Rory to win more than nine."

Said Azinger: "I always have liked his joyful enthusiasm. He plays like a kid without a care in the world. You see guys a lot of times look like they're playing with their last golf ball but he doesn't play that way, he's free-wheeling."

Added Player: "What makes a superstar? It's called 'it', and God lends it to you. Rory has that thing called 'it'."

McIlroy himself, meanwhile, is targeting the Augusta par-fives this week.

"If you look at the previous winners here, they've all played the par-fives well," McIlroy said, comparing his par-five results with 2014 champion Bubba Watson.

"Bubba last year played them at eight under par. I played them at even par and he went on to beat me by eight shots," noted McIlroy, who is 21-under on par-fives in 22 Masters rounds.


McIlroy said his booming drives actually worked against him.

"Sometimes on par-fives, with my length, I can be a little over-aggressive," said McIlroy, who hit nine-irons into the 13th and 15th in last year's final round and posted bogey-sixes in failed attempts to get an eagle.

He is determined to take everything one step at a time and credits Woods as an inspiration to the new generation of players.

"My mind wanders to winning this tournament and thinking what it would be like and what it would mean," he conceded. "It hasn't really wandered beyond that."

Still, as Woods emulated Jack Nicklaus with a poster of the Golden Bear's achievements on his bedroom wall, the curly-haired McIlroy has the 39-year-old American to look up to.

"He was a hero of mine growing up," McIlroy said about the former world number one.

"I did have posters of him on my wall and I did idolise him. He was someone I put up on a pedestal.

"I think if you ask a lot of golfers that are my generation, he was the benchmark. He was the inspiration for us to go out and try to be the best."



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