When Tiger Woods fell from grace a couple of years ago, professional golf lost its sizzle.
We've tried to create some from what was left but let's face it, it wasn't working. Dustin Johnson was going to be the next big star, we said. Matt Kuchar got hot. That's nice. Bubba Watson was engaging. Luke Donald was striping it. Rickie Fowler looked like Elvis and wore clothes Elvis might have worn in Las Vegas. Lee Westwood was hovering. Graeme McDowell was the real deal. And, oh yeah, Phil Mickelson was going to be Phil.
But where was the sizzle?
Then, as the song says, a little bit of heaven fell to earth one day. Rory McIlroy, the Northern Ireland kid with the Huck Finn face and the luxurious thatch of hair and the fetching smile and the golf game that had even ol' cynic Johnny Miller raving, showed us again just how captivating the game can be.
He destroyed a long list of records in winning the US Open with scores of 66-65-68-69 that left the rest of the field about a mile and a half behind.
And the 22-year-old looked like he was having fun, smiling and walking with a bounce in his step and the gallery loved it. Several times, they set up a chant of "Rory, Rory, Rory!" They don't do that for the players who look like they're going in for a colonoscopy.
In April, McIlroy had folded on the final nine at the Augusta Masters and lost a four-stroke lead to Charl Schwartzel, who birdied the last four holes.
That stagger raised questions about McIlroy's ability to keep the lead once he sprinted out front in the Open. Any questions now?
This young man can play. Really play. One fellow competitor said Rory might be the man to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. That's getting a little ahead of ourselves but watching him in the Open was like watching Tiger in 2000, when he owned the world.
When McIlroy won the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club here last year, he became the youngest player to win on the PGA Tour since Tiger in 1996. He hot 62 in the final round, scoring 3 on seven of his last eight holes and played the last five in five under par. Given the circumstances – a tough golf course, one of the strongest fields of the year, Mickelson chasing him and a chance to win his first on the American tour-- it was the best round of golf I've ever seen.
When it was over, several of his competitors were waiting to congratulate him.
Before he teed off Sunday at Congressional, several fellow players encouraged him to bring it home. They like him and why not?
The Congressional course was not as difficult as the USGA would have liked but that does little to diminish his achievement when you consider that he won by eight shots.
The course was tough enough for the rest of them.