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May 30, 2017

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'Phenomenal' Rory McIlroy works his way toward No. 1 spot

As for his game?

McIlroy has a swing that's easy on the eye, packed with plenty of power. He has a keen short game, and there was no better example of that in the semifinal match against Lee Westwood. He pitched 20 feet away from the flag to ride the spine of a ridge, and watched the ball gently take the slope to a foot for birdie.

He has looked suspect at times with short putts, but from outside 20 feet, just about every putt looks as if it has a chance.

The knock on McIlroy is that he has only four wins — none in Europe in a bit of anomaly. For someone who has played primarily the European Tour the last three years, someone with that talent should be expected to win more. Martin Kaymer, the 27-year-old German who has been on tour one year longer than McIlroy, already has 10 wins, including a major and a World Golf Championship.

But the quality of McIlroy's wins can't be ignored — a 62 in the final round to win at Quail Hollow and the U.S. Open.

Just two months after he collapsed at the Masters with an 80, McIlroy showed remarkable resilience by shattering records at the U.S. Open for an eight-shot win at Congressional, where he finished at 268. That score wins Memphis, not the U.S. Open.

Still, it's the failures that make McIlroy's future look so limitless.

In the last few years alone, he tied a major championship record with a 63 at St. Andrews. He was tied for the lead late in the final round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and narrowly missed a birdie putt on the last hole that would have put him in a playoff. Yes, he shot 80 at the Masters. Don't forget the 54 holes that preceded that.

No one is about to lay down for McIlroy, as Mahan showed Sunday at Dove Mountain.

Westwood squandered a chance to win in Dubai, and while McIlroy in effect called him out and then beat him in a high-stakes semifinal, Westwood looks in good form. A return to No. 1 is not out of the question.

McIlroy, however, has youth on his side. He doesn't turn 23 until May. He is fitter and much stronger than he was a year ago. Odds are he has yet to hit stride. And while this doesn't bode well in the long run for Donald or Westwood, to see McIlroy on the verge of becoming the best in golf is going to make it that much harder on Tiger Woods, too.

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