Philadelphia, PA – It seems certain that the Rory McIlroy coronation as No. 1 player in the world will happen sooner rather than later. But, shouldn't we expect a tiny bit more from the man ready for his coronation?
McIlroy could've become No. 1 in the rankings with a win over Hunter Mahan in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. It was treated as a mere formality, but reality reared its ugly head.
Instead of McIlroy's march to the throne, what we saw was a listless performance from the "game's best."
McIlroy dropped three holes in a row from the sixth. He lost the seventh with a double bogey and bogeyed the par-five eighth. McIlroy showed a little pluck in winning two holes on the back nine, but the fact that he was so out- classed indicated reason for concern.
The prevailing theory why McIlroy played so poorly on the front side was that his semifinal match Sunday morning against Lee Westwood took too much out of him.
It was a huge match between a pair of No. 1 seeds and McIlroy overcame an early 3-up deficit to get the win. The gravity of the bout was intensified as more and more started to come out about a tense relationship between the two.
McIlroy famously left Chubby Chandler's management group of which Westwood isn't just the client, but a part owner (think Sy Sperling of the Hair Club for Men, if you're old enough to get the reference).
McIlroy has to decide if he'll play for Ireland or Great Britain & Northern Ireland in the Olympics four years from now. As a Northern Irish citizen, he has the option to play for either team, and somehow Westwood might be angry if McIlroy chooses the "wrong" affiliation.
So after McIlroy topped Westwood, in a tense, high-quality match, he didn't have the energy for a final-round tilt with Mahan?
"I think, and this is no disrespect to the other two guys in the other semifinals, Hunter and Mark (Wilson), but it was almost like, to me it was like my final in a way," McIlroy said Sunday night of his match against Westwood. "I really wanted to -- that was the one I wanted all week and I got. And that's what I got myself up for.
"Maybe mentally and emotionally it did take a little bit out of me."
That's simply unacceptable.
Did McIlroy not look at the bracket before the tournament and realize his encounter with Westwood, no matter how badly he wanted to beat him, wouldn't be the final?
When the opportunity to become No. 1 in the world is at hand, you find something inside you, no matter how dog-tired you are, to take that title. The front nine on Sunday was not the way No. 1 players perform. No. 1 players separate themselves in those situations. It's what defines their greatness.
It's absurd to compare McIlroy to Tiger Woods like some pundits had, but do you think Woods wouldn't be up for a final against, say Stewart Cink, after knocking out, say Phil Mickelson? Of course, Woods would be ready. He'd shake Cink's hand at the first tee, then try to slaughter him in 10 holes.
Mickelson and McIlroy might be a more accurate comparison. Mickelson had so many opportunities to become the top-ranked player for the first time just a few years back and stumbled. It always appeared that moment got too big for Lefty.
Certainly, with only one chance to date and at the puppy age of 22, McIlroy will have years worth of more bites at the No. 1 apple. But Sunday's display was not a strong indicator, that within the next few days, like at the Honda Classic, McIlroy will take his rightful claim to sit atop golf's highest mountain.
Remember this, McIlroy has only two PGA Tour victories and three European Tour titles and the U.S. Open win counts for both tours. That is not a lot of trips to the winner's circle for someone most believe is clearly the best player in the sport.
I believe McIlroy will be ranked No. 1 soon, but let Sunday's underwhelming showing be a reminder: McIlroy isn't the slam-dunk No. 1 everyone thinks he is.
- I did have Mahan in the quarterfinals, but the lesson Mahan taught us this week is that a hot putter can overcome all. This guy won rather comfortably and hit a flat-out shank from the middle of the fairway to another tee box.
- The sneaky moment I'll remember from the WGC was the bizarre comment from Matt Kuchar after his loss in the quarters to Mahan. Kuchar said on camera he wanted to punch Nick Faldo in the back of neck. While I'm not much of a fighter, I can tell you that when it's go time, I'm not aiming for the back of the guy's neck. Strategy not withstanding, this was such an odd thing for a goody-goody like Kuchar to say. Popular wisdom says Kuchar was a little fed up with Faldo's criticism of the long putter, but it was extremely awkward. Faldo tweeted that Kuchar spoke with him and everything is fine. I guess it would be if the guy who wants to fight you is aiming for the back of your neck.
- Movie moment - I didn't enjoy the Oscars. I have less than zero interest in a silent film about Hollywood, and even less interest in hearing Billy Crystal tell old jokes.