JOHNS CREEK, Ga. Finally, after six failures in a row at the majors, America is perfectly placed to crown a home winner at the 93rd PGA Championship. No, not Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or even Rickie Fowler, but Rory McIlroy.
Yes, the Northern Irishman has been adopted by Uncle Sam and gone native. He's looking forward to playing on the PGA Tour and to finding a home in Florida.
"I feel very comfortable in this country and playing on the types of golf courses over here," he said Wednesday. "I feel as if I've got a great relationship with the fans."
The wave of American love and support that McIlroy received while winning the U.S. Open in Maryland has rolled into Georgia. Crowds just as big as Tiger's have mobbed him around Atlanta Athletic Club, but that's where the comparisons end. McIlroy has been signing hundreds of autographs and embracing the fans; Woods, as usual, is keeping everyone at arms length.
McIlroy is the new fan favorite, as well as the U.K. bookies' favorite to raise the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. After finishing third in the last two PGA Championships, McIlroy believes this is the major that suits him best.
"This and the Masters would probably be the two," he said.
He's in fine form (he tied for sixth at Firestone last week) and is looking to re-create his sunny U.S. Open disposition rather than his soggy and windswept British Open strop. "It would be great to play like I did at the U.S. Open every week," he said with a smile.
McIlroy has become a superstar in just a few months. He's now the boy in the bubble and has to learn fast how to deal with all the attention while still having fun, staying in control of his life and remaining sane. But despite all the intrusions on his life, McIlroy said he is enjoying being the center of attention.
"It's part of my life now; it's better than no one wanting to know what you're up to," he said. "When you dream of winning big tournaments as a kid, all you think about is the golf. You never really think of the other side of it, the attention, the spotlight. It's just something I'm still getting used to. But it's a nice position to be in. I'm not complaining."
McIlroy is part of the Facebook and Twitter generation, so he is only too aware that everything he says and does will be broadcast to the world at the push of a button. But rather than viewing social media as a threat, the 22-year-old is treating it as just another part of life.
"It's the world we live in," he said. "Everything is instant. You can write a comment I've got half a million Twitter followers and it's out to more than that in a couple of minutes. You go out to dinner with someone and it's posted on Twitter two minutes later."
That would be dinner with his new girlfriend, the No. 1 women's tennis player in the world, Caroline Wozniacki. "Why let it bother you? Embrace it."
Embrace it was the message Greg Norman, the former No. 1 player in the world, gave to McIlroy when they spoke recently.
"I said to him to look after his head," Norman said on the practice range before heading off to a Presidents Cup meeting. "When you do something special like what he did at Congressional, and keep playing well, it's how you deal with all the other exterior stuff that comes with that territory. If you embrace the responsibility the way he has, then it's a lot easier. If you push back and fight it, like Tiger Woods when he put himself away from everybody, then it can knock you."
The golfing world is still getting used to the end of the Tiger era and his intimidating aura, and McIlroy is too modest to think that he is already having a "prepare to fail" effect on his rivals.
"It's not as if I'm 6-feet-4 and 15 stone," he said. "I'm not the most imposing figure in the game. So I don't think I would be able to intimidate anyone, either."
Norman believes McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Nick Watney and Ryo Ishikawa are similar to the stars of his era Nick Faldo, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam.
"I think it is healthier when you have six to 10 guys who can really get out there and carry the banner for the game of golf," Norman said. "It was tough to win consistently because there were so many great players on a global level, and it is like that now."
The sport is waiting to see if one of this new golden generation can break out to win multiple majors and dominate as No.1. McIlroy, standing at No. 4 with the U.S. Open title, seems the most likely candidate.
"What Rory is doing at such a young age is incredible," Norman said. "If you're performing well week-in and week-out, whatever it is, it follows you around. It's a good thing to have. You take advantage of it. I loved it. I felt like you go out on the golf course on Sunday and everybody thinks, who's playing for second?"