|Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy kisses the U.S. Open Trophy after winning the 2011 U.S. Open golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, June 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
PHILADELPHIA - As every week passes without Tiger Woods atop the world rankings, the allure of the No. 1 spot takes another hit.
For at least another couple weeks, as long as Luke Donald and Lee Westwood occupy the top two spots in the world, No. 1 and No. 2 will have combined for as many major championships as I have or you have.
Tiger fell to No. 17 as he continues to sit out with injury, but it's probably safe to say he hasn't lost the grip on the "best player in the world" title. Sure, he's in the longest winless drought of his career and isn't 100 percent healthy, but he's still expected to not only contend, but win every tournament he plays.
Back at the Masters, when Woods surged on the final day, more people than not assumed he'd win the tournament. It was still a surprise when he flamed out at the end -- not as big of a surprise as it would have been five years ago, but a surprise nonetheless.
In the wake of his impressive U.S. Open win, Rory McIlroy has now been dubbed the next Tiger, much like several NBA players have been the next Michael Jordan. I guess that means he's expected to claim the No. 1 ranking for an equivalent of 12 years and/or win double-digit majors by the time he's 35.
I hate to break it to you, but it's not happening. We can revisit this column in 2023 to see, and I'd be willing to bet that McIlroy not only misses both those marks, but misses them badly.
There is no question that McIlroy is the most talented player on the right side of 30. There's almost no doubt that last week's victory -- which wasn't as impressive as Woods' in 2000, by the way -- was the first of multiple major championships for the 22-year-old Irishman.
(Side note: How can anyone compare McIlroy's win favorably to Woods' in 2000? The only fact needed is that 20 players shot under par this year, while Woods was the ONLY player better than THREE-OVER PAR -- at 12-under! -- at Pebble Beach. Case closed.)
Despite his immense talent, it's time to stop the comparisons to the most dominant golfer who ever lived. It's easy to forget Tiger's brand after his personal problems, but the man was the first billionaire athlete in any sport. He transcended a non-mainstream sport and became the sole reason why many people watched golf at all.
No matter the success McIlroy has, he can never reach the popularity Woods had (or still has) or the importance Woods played. Like Jordan with basketball, Woods made it 'cool' to play golf, and that's something McIlroy simply cannot match.
"I don't think you can think about (the expectations and comparisons)," McIlroy said. "It's only people saying these things. It's nice that people say that he could be this or he could be that or he could win 20 major championships, but at the end of the day I've won one. I obviously want to add to that tally. But you can't let what other people think of you, influence what you have to do. You have to just go out there, work hard, believe in yourself. As long as you believe in yourself and believe that you're doing the right things, that's all you can really do."
Take the television ratings from Sunday's final round, for example. If Tiger had been playing and contending, all the storylines may have generated record ratings or at least close to it. I don't think anyone would disagree with me there. Rory? His final round ratings matched that of 2009 champ Lucas Glover, 26 percent lower than 2010 -- although, admittedly, 2010 was in prime time.
But Lucas Glover-ratings? And we're comparing him to Tiger? C'mon, now.
Tiger Woods was more than a golfer. He was, and is, an icon. Covering and rooting for/against icons is a lot more fun and interesting than doing so for the average golfer, so we ask many athletes to be more than they can be. I think that's what is now happening with McIlroy, especially in an age where overreaction is king.
"When you win a major quite early in your career, everyone is going to draw comparisons, it's natural," McIlroy said on Sunday. "He's Tiger Woods. I'm just happy to be sitting here with the trophy that has his name on it."
It's not fair to McIlroy. It's not fair to Tiger. Let Rory be Rory...because if you constantly compare him to the greatest golfer ever, you'll come away disappointed.