TORONTO - With the news Tiger Woods won't play the British Open this month, much of the focus on the tournament has been clouded with questions about him and whether he'll ever be healthy enough to chase down Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major championships.
The Tiger-centric attention whenever golf is mentioned is natural because he's still one of the most recognizable athletes in the world and is certainly the most polarizing in the sport right now. Yet the spotlight he's been receiving for missing The Open Championship isn't really deserved because it isn't all that surprising.
For most of this year, Woods' name has been synonymous with missed tournaments. Even though he's great for the sport when he's playing and competing for majors, fans can't wait on his decisions to play or not when there's an heir apparent from Northern Ireland waiting to be embraced by the entire world.
Rory McIlroy, 22, has had a 2011 to remember. First, becoming known as the young man who imploded on the final day at The Masters and then becoming the new darling of the golf world by absolutely torching the field at the U.S. Open with his record 16-under-par aggregate score of 268.
There aren't a lot of people in the world who will publicly state they don't fear Woods on the golf course and would rather go head-to-head with him, but McIlroy is that confident, and that is what separates him from the rest.
So confident is he in his own abilities that he has no qualms on making such brash remarks and yet so disarming is his smile and his general demeanor that instead of arrogant, he comes off as a genuine competitor, still boyishly in love with the game.
This is a winning combination for golf. It's complete departure from the cold aloofness that personified Woods' best years.
When McIlroy tees off next Thursday at Royal St. George's, the world will be watching him. Although his mere presence on the course won't shut out all of the Tiger talk that undoubtedly will pepper its way into the opening rounds, his play certainly can.
Like any great player, McIlroy will need to prove himself with a club in hand as opposed to just a microphone. If he can come even a little close to the scorching performance he had at Congressional Country Club, then his ascendance to full-blown stardom won't just be limited to golf enthusiasts, it'll also start to encroach on the general public.