• Out of Bounds

Can McIlroy go from dominance to a dynasty?

ESPN staff
November 14, 2012
Can Rory McIlroy succeed where Luke Donald failed? © Getty Images

Luke Donald has probably got used to Rory McIlroy stealing his thunder.

The world No. 1, Europe's next dominant force - both are titles the likeable Englishman has lost to his younger Ryder Cup team-mate over the past year.

Twelve months ago, the Englishman was also being lauded for an historic achievement - becoming the first player ever to win the money lists on both the European and PGA Tours in the same season.

Ernie Els came close once upon a time, Tiger Woods would have done it on a couple of occasions if he managed to play a few more events in Europe. But Donald was the first to actually achieve the feat, and it was reacted to - rightfully - as remarkable.

Some thought it would be decades before we saw a repeat performance. Instead, it took the shortest time possible (in other words, exactly a year), as Rory McIlroy this week completed exactly the same achievement.

Add to that the Vardon Trophy and likely PGA Player of the Year honours, and you have a season for the ages.

The twin money list successes coming so close together is doubtless evidence of the increasing globalisation of golf's professional game - not to mention the vast riches on offer in events co-sanctioned by both tours (the majors, the World Golf Championship events). But it is also a measure of the players' individual performances in a calendar year - and Donald set a mark that McIlroy quickly matched.

The Northern Irishman now has the golfing world at his feet - with two majors under his belt (the most recent coming at the last, the US PGA Championship) he is being tipped to challenge Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18.

2013, however, could prove altogether different for McIlroy. After such a memorable campaign he will have a lot more pressure and expectation on him, something that is not always easy to deal with. Just ask Donald - who built a healthy lead at the top of the world rankings after his 2011 campaign, but now finds himself a long way off the summit in third after a less than spectacular follow-up.

McIlroy will have that same heightened expectation to deal with - plus a pending equipment switch to Nike, which will almost certainly throw his game off track for at least a couple of weeks.

The 23-year-old is doubtless the man to beat next season (sorry, Tiger) but it is still far from a foregone conclusion that he repeats the successes of the season just completed.

Perhaps sensibly, McIlroy is not imposing any lofty targets ahead of his return next season.

"Looking forward to next year, I just want to keep improving and try to become a better golfer," he said earlier this week. "If I can do that, then more tournaments and more majors will come.

"I'm not naming any goals or targets like that, I just want to keep trying to improve and keep trying to get better."

Perhaps he knows that dominance in individual sport is a curious thing to predict. After all, his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, looked destined to dominate women's tennis when she rose to world No. 1 in late 2010 yet, two years later, she is barely hanging onto her place in the top ten and remains major-less.

McIlroy, possessing a swing grooved so pure even titans of golf past and present are envious, seems as sure a bet as you can find to continue his reign at the top of the sport. But even that is far different from a guarantee.

Taken as a whole, 2012 was McIlroy building on the coming out party that was his 2011 campaign. 2013, then, will be where he proves (or not) that he can sustain that level and build the 'dynasty' that Tiger Woods and other greats before him have done.

The sort of dynasty that Donald - good but not great - could not.

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