roryBefore we start this off, I’m more than aware of the litany of failed wunderkinds who contended in a huge tournament only to find the pro circuit much tougher sledding.  From Matt Kuchar to Justin Rose to a lot of other guys who were before my time, success in golf is no sure thing, hell, there were even doubters when Tiger was bursting on the scene.  A few great showings when you’re still too young to vote doesn’t necessarily mean that professional success is a given…

…but Rory McIlroy is a sure thing.

I was familiar with him through his great finish at the 2007 Open at Carnoustie when he was only 17 and read a few Golf Digest articles, so I was vaguely aware of him heading into last weekend, but when I caught the Dubai Desert Classic’s third and fourth rounds, I wasn’t expecting anything like that.  A wire to wire finish at a prestigious event with a difficult course highlighted by an opening 64 and a 67 on moving day?  A 19 year kid is not supposed to do that.

Putting aside the setting and the gigantic winner’s check, look at the players he topped…underrated monster, Alvaro Quiros, Monty, Sergio, the Mechanic, Martin Kaymer, Robert Karlsson, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, and Justin Rose.  He just beat the next European Ryder Cup team…for a F-250 full of cash…at a pretty tough track.  Heady, heady stuff.

I’m having a hard time getting over the fact that Rory is still only 19 years old.  His swing looks impeccable and he’s got some great touch and a nice putting stroke, and despite nearly giving the tournament away, showed some gumption and collected himself in time to make a fantastic up and down on the last hole, holding off a charging Justin Rose.  Hey, these things happen…even Tiger choked away his first chance at a win, so I’m not going to criticize some young kid who just topped the leaderboard at an event like this.

Mark O’Meara, Tiger’s mentor and a fantastic player in his own right, has said that Rory is farther along now than Tiger was at the same age.  Sure, O’Meara said the same thing about Anthony Kim two years ago, but, of any of the young guys on both Tours, it’s pretty clear that these two are heads and shoulders above the rest.  There’s something mature about Rory (and AK’s) game that makes him such an intriguing prospect, but for all the touch and finesse Rory showed, he’s still a young gun at heart.

What really captured my attention was his length off the tee.  Playing with Louis Oosthuizen and Henrik Stenson in the final group, it always seemed like Rory was a good 20 yards past each of them, and almost always in the fairway.  There was one hole in particular that stands out…Oosthuizen hit driver and ended up right and in the rough.  Stenson, who famously carries a strong-lofted 3-wood that he uses most often off the tee rather than a driver, and is a BIG hitter, pipes his down the left side a good 300 yards.  That’s a BIG 3-wood.  A big 3-wood that was flown by 20 yards by Rory…

THAT’S when it hit me…this kid just flew one of the best fairway wood players in the game by 20 yards.  And not just any player, Henrik Stenson, Dubai resident who is damn near unbeatable in desert settings (check out his record on desert courses…it’s patently absurd).  That just doesn’t happen, especially not from a 19 year old punk kid.

I’m going to temper my expecations here…I’m not going to get ridiculous and say he’s winning three majors in the next three years, or anything like that.  After all, he’s only 19, and Sergio was just as ridiculous at the same age and we all know how he’s done in the majors so far in his career.  But the maturity of Rory’s game, his experience so far, the fact that Mark O’Meara is a mentor…all these things make me believe that he’s going to be a superstar and a force on the worldwide golf scene.

And now, because of his absurdly high world ranking, Rory is coming stateside.  PGA fans will finally get to see this prodigy on American soil, going against deep fields at some tough courses.  Already qualified for the WGC Match Play and CA Championships, as well as the Masters, and invited to the King’s event at Bay Hill, the Honda Classic reached out and offered him a sponsor’s expemption, giving Rory a chance to show his stuff before the big event in early April.

How will he adjust to playing American style courses rather than the European variety?  I don’t have an answer, nor do I know how he’ll fare going up against Mickelson, AK, Mahan and, eventually, Tiger, but if his performance at Dubai (and Carnoustie) has taught us anything, it’s that he’s got the talent to stick with the big dogs.  Color me excited.