Yes, Rory can keep it going!
By Neville Leck Last updated: 20th December 2012
All too soon the most recent golf season has come and gone, leaving us with an exciting new world champion, Rory McIlroy.
No one will doubt that after his regal rush to fame and fortune in 2012, the hugely talented 23-year-old Northern Ireland upstart deserved to be sitting securely on the world golf throne that, for the greatest part of this century had been occupied by Tiger Woods. The American was one of the globe's most successful golfers off all time until that headlong rush into the extra-marital scandal three or so years ago that blew his marriage out of the water and savaged his confidence.
An on-going knee injury problem at that stage hardly helped to revive his career.
Among his score upon score of world-wide victories, Woods had won 14 majors when his career ran into trouble and after first Lee Westwood then fellow Englishman Luke Donald and German Martin Kaymer had all edged clear at the top of the World Ranking list at one time or an other, McIlroy surged ahead of them all this year with a bunch of big wins that included a second career major at the PGA Championship.
Tiger has made something of a comeback after a barren and - if his perpetually sour face meant anything - an unhappy, two-year run and was able to pick up three good victories on the US PGA Tour this year. But it was McIlroy, the cocky, smiling, new prince of golf, who would stand head and shoulders above the rest as he convincingly ascended the World Rankings throne and, along the way, matched Donald's historic achievement of the year before by topping the money-winners list on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year.
Of course, being part of Jose Maria Olazabal's triumphant Ryder Cup team this year helped to further fuel his glory, but now, as the New Year approaches, the big question that has to be asked is this: Can R-Mac keep flying high and sustain his victory march or will 2013 be an unlucky one?
I personally think he'll keep on winning.
He is clearly not one of those fly-by-nights who arrive in a blaze of glory and then quietly disappear. He has both the mindset and the skill of a man who not only knows how to win, but perhaps more importantly, how to keep on winning.
If there is any downside at all to his formidable make up, it may just be that he seems to have a happy-go-lucky tendency to sometimes enjoy his life too much away from the golf course, especially when it has involved tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki the new love of his life, but then again, this didn't seem to be the case in the second half of the season when he captured the most important of his four US PGA and three European Tour titles.
After his victory in 2012's fourth and final major, he went on to win two of the four FedEx Cup play-off tournaments and then wrapped up the European Tour's Race to Dubai when, with Wozniacki following his every move, he claimed a resounding victory at the season-closing DP World Tour championship.
But golf being golf, there is never any guarantee of anything and if 2013 is going to be unkind to McIlroy, will it be current world number three Woods who hunts him down and re-establishes himself as the king of the mountain or will it be fellow Brits, Donald, the current world number two, Justin Rose (number four) or Westwood (number seven) or perhaps even Australian Adam Scott (number five) or South African Louis Oosthuizen (number six) who get the job done?
And what about some of the other American talents who have replaced Woods as their nation's new major and FedEx Cup winners - men like the reigning Masters and US Open champions Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson or Brandt Snedeker who beat both Woods and McIlroy in the FedEx Cup race this year?
There is also short game maestro Phil Mickelson, who for so long had to play second fiddle to Woods and never did get to number one. Could he at last be a number one contender?
Perhaps not. Lefty is currently down to number 17 in the World and heading, as he is, into his later 30s, his chances, like those of this year's Open Champion, Ernie Els, of making it back to the top may just have slipped away forever and it might be more feasible to look at the likes of the Ian Poulters and hot-again Charl Schwartzels as others who could get up among the 2013 front-runners in the battle for global supremacy.
The young guns? There are certainly some good ones around, most notably McIlroy himself.
Some of the others include Italian teenager Matteo Manasseo, American Rickie Fowler, South African Branden Grace - the only four time winner on the European Tour this year - and up-and-coming Asian stars like Japan's Ryo Ishikawa and Koreans Sang-moon Bae, KT Kim and Seung-yul Noh, who seemingly, from nowhere, have blazed into the World's Top 100.
All have great potential, but right now I don't believe any of them are ready to push McIloy or any of the other established big guns who will start 2013 as his closest pursuers.
And when will a potentially thrilling 2013 open it's doors?
The US PGA Tour where McIlroy is expected to play most of his golf this year, will do it in Hawaii with it's Tour Of Champions event at Kapalua starting January 4 and at the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu starting a week later on January 10.
In the meantime, the 2013 European Tour, already launched with two, end-the-year events in South Africa this month, will open the new year with its third event in this country, the big bucks Volvo Championship set to tee off at Durban Country Club on January 10 before heading for the United Arab Emirates for the Abu Dhabi Championship starting on January 17.
I can't wait.
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