COLIN MONTGOMERIE reckons Rory McIlroy is ready to dominate golf the way Tiger Woods did until losing his invincibility.
McIlroy claimed his fourth major last night after coming out on top in a dramatic finale to the 96th US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
One ahead at the start of the day, the 25-year-old found himself three behind American ace Rickie Fowler as he stood in the middle of the tenth fairway.
But, after making a superb eagle-3 there, McIlroy also picked up birdies at the 13th and 17th to get his nose back in front.
A closing 68 for a 16-under-par total of 268 saw him home by a shot from 2005 winner Phil Mickelson (66), with Fowler (68) and Swede Henrik Stenson (66) both a further stroke back.
It completed back-to-back majors for McIlroy after his victory in The Open at Hoylake last month. He’s also now won three events in a row after claiming the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in between.
“What a month – win, win, win! You can’t beat that,” declared Montgomerie. “He is the best player in the world. I said that before he won the Bridgestone – I said he’d win here.
“I once said that if Tiger played his best he’d win and I think Rory is in that state right now. He’s on a different golf course to a lot of people.
“He hit a drive and 9-iron at the 16th yesterday. I can’t reach with a drive and 3-wood. He’s playing a completely different golf course – not just to me but others as well. All credit to him.”
McIlroy had strolled to victory when winning the 2011 US Open and also the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island two years ago. He had to work a bit harder to claim his first Claret Jug on Merseyside a month ago but, on this occasion, he needed to fight toe-to-toe with his title rivals in the home city of Muhammad Ali.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could have a summer like this,” he admitted. “I’ve played the best golf of my life and today I showed a lot of guys to get this job done.”
Mickelson, who almost chipped in for an eagle at the last, fell agonisingly short in the end in his bid to claim a sixth major.
“It was good for me to get back in the mix, but I ran out of steam after making a good par putt at the 12th,” admitted the 44-year-old.
Fowler has now finished fifth, second twice and third in the game’s biggest events this year. “This is the first one that hurts as I made a couple of bad swings on the back nine,” said the 25-year-old.
Mickelson’s effort secured his place on Tom Watson’s team for next month’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. The other automatic qualifiers are Fowler, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson.
Europe’s qualifying race for the same number of spots concludes after the Italian Open at the end of this month.
Both Watson and Paul McGinley will announce their wild cards on the same day – September 2 – with Montgomerie reckoning the European captain has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. “They’ve done very well,” said the 51-year-old of how the contenders had fared in the season’s final major.
“Jamie Donaldson’s 66 on Saturday, for instance, was extremely good and while he might have said that he wasn’t thinking about the Ryder Cup, of course he was.
“Lee Westwood has proved himself again, Graeme McDowell had a good last-round score, Luke Donald has done well, as has Ian Poulter.
“All credit to them for first making the cut then moving forward over the weekend. Paul is spoilt for choice, which is a nice position to be in.”
Unfortunately, Stephen Gallacher made an early exit in Kentucky, but the Lothians star has three more events on his schedule, starting with the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina, to either get in automatically or earn a captain’s pick.
“It was unfortunate that Stephen missed the cut as he needed a good finish here,” said Montgomerie of his compatriot, “but, at the same time, there are a couple of more opportunities for him.”