KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Tiger Woods was leaning on a podium late Sunday afternoon, a sheen of sweat still on his thick arms, talking about another major championship that had escaped him while the cheers were beginning to escort Rory McIlroy down the 18th fairway at the Ocean Course.
The line of questioning with Woods shifted from why he hadnt seriously contended on Sunday at the PGA Championship to his impressions of McIlroy, who was winning his second major championship in just 17 starts.
How, Woods was asked, does a 23-year-old McIlroy sustain such success across the span of a career?
Just do it, Woods said.
So much for elaboration.
McIlroy might just do it.
He has played major championship golf for four years and already has two trophies. In those same four years, Woods hasnt won a major championship, though he has finished sixth or better in seven of the 14 majors hes played in that time.
What McIlroy hinted at with his Sunday 62 at Quail Hollow two years ago and his breakthrough eight-stroke victory in the U.S. Open in 2011, he cemented Sunday beside the Atlantic Ocean. Hes the games next great player.
Rorys proving that when he plays well, he plays like Tiger played well, Padraig Harrington said. Tiger turned up for a few years (and) if he brought his A game, the rest of us struggled to compete.
Rory is showing us that with his A game, everybody else is going to struggle to compete with him and Tiger needs his A game to come up against Rory. Hes not going to beat him unless he has a big weekend.
Woods didnt have a big weekend at the Ocean Course. He made the surprising admission that he approached Saturdays rain-interrupted third round the wrong way he tried to enjoy himself. Its a nice thought but its not Woods style, particularly not in major championships.
After the first two rounds when Woods needed to generate momentum, he stalled.
It happens sometimes but he doesnt seem to hit as many iron shots close or hole as many medium-length putts as he once did on major championship weekends.
Woods is different now. Less of a sure thing. Still, hes won three times this year, leads the PGA Tour in stroke average and money won. Hes not going anywhere except to continue chasing Jack Nicklaus major championship record.
I still think Tigers going to catch Jack, Harrington said.
McIlroy, meanwhile, appears ready to inherit Woods place as the games dominant player.
Hes very good, Woods said. This is the way Rory can play. When he gets it going, its pretty impressive to watch.
Thats McIlroys magic.
Hes the first player to leave us awestruck in the way Woods has so often.
McIlroy hits shots others dont or cant. On Friday, with the wind howling, McIlroy held a 4-iron shot into the wind that landed on the par-3 14th green that had been as elusive as Bigfoot. He then made an 18-footer for birdie that stabilized a round that could have turned ugly.
It didnt get much notice but Sunday night McIlroys caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, said it was one of the most important moments of the week.
Coming home Sunday, McIlroy finished with a 350-yard drive across the dunes and into the heart of the 18th fairway that might have seemed showy had it not been so pure.
McIlroys career has intersected Woods and, while its not like it was a decade ago, it allows McIlroy to build a portion of his career resume against one of the two best players in history. For Woods, McIlroy is the best of the next generation, the way Tom Watson came along to challenge Nicklaus.
(McIlroys) No. 1 in the universe right now, not No. 1 in the world. Its not close, television analyst David Feherty said.
Tigers not where he was. People keep asking is Tiger Woods back? Back where? Yeah, hes back. Hes won three times this year. Hes not back where he was at the turn of the century. I think it will be another century before anybody gets there. Its an unreasonable standard to hold anybody to.
While Woods remains the gold standard, McIlroy is setting the new standard.
Everybody should take note, Ian Poulter said. The guys pretty good.