Rory McIlroy Has the Time and Talent to Surpass Jack Nicklaus' Major Milestone--If He's Hungry Enough.

Rory McIlroy Has the Time and Talent to Surpass Jack Nicklaus’ Major Milestone–If He’s Hungry Enough.

Rory roared in 2014, and he's now just a green jacket away from winning the career grand slam.
Fred Vuich/SI

Rory McIlroy has collected many awards this year, among them Golf Magazine's Player of the Year. The reason? I think it's because he's committed himself 100 percent to golf — in practice, in tournaments and in workouts.

His results in 2014 speak for themselves: Three wins in a row, including the British Open and the PGA Championship. No one has ever driven the ball as far and as straight as Rory did this season. When he's on, he's by far the game's best player. Now the question is: How badly does he want to stay on top?

For Rory, the question isn't whether he's a good enough iron player or putter to stay at No. 1. His talent is unquestionable. What is still to be determined is the level of his desire to dominate.

It takes a special breed to reach No. 1 and then stay there for a long time. We've seen great players like Fred Couples and Davis Love III ascend to the top, but when they reached the mountain peak, they didn't want to do what it takes to stay there.

So what does it take? Today, the biggest challenge is dealing with the media scrutiny. Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson never dealt with anything like the microscope that's fixed on Rory's game and his personal life. Another distraction is the increased demand on his time. From endorsements to appearance fees, the No. 1 spot comes with endless opportunities to cash in around the world. It's easy to burn out.

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I believe Rory has the competitive desire to do what it takes in the gym and on the practice range. I also think he possesses the considerable personal gifts needed to navigate the other perils of being the best in the world. On the course, he's a fierce competitor in a league of his own. Off the course, he's a humble, authentic young man who knows how to connect with fans. We all want the game's best player to be both hero and regular guy next door. Our expectations are almost impossible to live up to, but Rory makes it look easy.

What's more, he exudes a warm, approachable energy on course that makes us like him even more. Some greats follow the Hogan model, playing scowling, aloof golf. So rooting for them can be a challenge. McIlroy's gift? He can be himself and play great, too.

Most importantly, he's comfortable with who he is and what he's doing. Rory is loyal to his coach and his caddie, and it helps that he's formed his own management team, which has his best interests at heart.

If he can avoid burnout and becoming jaded, McIlroy has the talent to achieve lofty goals. Winning the Masters this April would secure his fifth major and the career grand slam — at age 25! Then there's Jack's 18 major wins, the Holy Grail of golf records. Rory is giving himself a chance to chase that mark, too. Can he catch the Bear? Based on what we saw in 2014, don't bet against him.

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