12 reasons to root for Rory McIlroy

6/21/2011 - Golf Rory McIlroy

BETHESDA, Md. -- Know many 22-year-olds who have won millions around the world playing a sport for a living that spend a few days in earthquake-ravaged Haiti before one of their biggest weeks of the year? Me neither.

That's one of the reasons Rory McIlroy seems to be universally praised after his record-breaking 8-shot victory at the 111th U.S. Open on Sunday at Congressional Country Club.

Here are a few more.

A quick study

After his well-documented collapse at the Masters, McIlroy not only didn't disintegrate at his next major, he went out and won it in dominating fashion.

Golfers often suffer mental scarring after dealing with such a dramatic defeat. Not McIlroy. He got right back on the horse and tamed it, demolishing the field.

How did he change so quickly?

"I needed to be a little more cocky, a little more arrogant on the golf course," McIlroy said. "And think a little bit more about myself, which I've tried to incorporate a little bit, just on the golf course. I just try and have a bit of an attitude, you know?"

When making that statement, he was clear that he was talking solely about his on-course demeanor, not how he carries himself outside the ropes.

Killer instinct

Tiger Woods is famous for beating up the field while it's down. If he led by five shots, he wanted it to be 10. Simple as that.

Well, McIlroy started Sunday at the 111th U.S. Open with an 8-shot lead on his closest followers and birdied the first hole to make it a 9-shot advantage. When Y.E. Yang hit it close at the 10th hole Sunday to draw the cheers of the crowd, McIlroy stuffed it closer, coming up just inches short of making a hole-in-one on the par-3 over water.

That's killer instinct.

Put away the silver spoon

The 22-year-old McIlroy wasn't a kid who had everything handed to him. His parents had to work multiple jobs -- including his father as a bartender and mother as a factory worker -- so he could pursue a promising amateur golf career. If that doesn't ground you and make you appreciate what you have, nothing will.

And who doesn't root for that?

Miracle shots

To be a legend, you have to hit shots that people will talk about for years. Nicklaus' putt on the 17th hole at Augusta in 1986 comes to mind. Pick one of a half-dozen of Tiger's shots at Torrey Pines in 2008 on a broken leg.

In Friday's second round from 114 yards on the par-4 8th hole, McIlroy holed a wedge from the fairway. The ball landed 25 feet past the cup and spun all the way back as if he lined it up like a putt.

It's a start.

Defeat builds character

The old golf adage goes: You learn more about someone in defeat than you do in victory. That was clearly evident after McIlroy lost that four-shot lead at the Masters with a disastrous back-nine collapse.

But the way he carried himself was admirable. McIlroy even talked eventual Masters winner Charl Schwartzel into taking a picture together, with the South African wearing the green jacket he had just won hours earlier. That would be hard for most competitors to do months later, but McIlroy suggested it, then tweeted it to his thousands of followers hours after suffering that brutal meltdown.

Respects his elders

When playing outside the house he rented at the Masters, McIlroy and his buddies were playing football (the Peyton Manning kind, not David Beckham's brand.) A lady in the neighborhood came out, told them they were making a racket and to quiet down.
He didn't play the "Don't you know who I am?" card. He just went inside. Kudos.

He's a bomber

Sure, McIlroy could be popular if his drives resembled those of singles hitters Corey Pavin and Fred Funk. But it doesn't hurt that he airmails tee shots well over 300 yards.

Who doesn't dig the long ball?

The name

With all due respect to Rory Sabbatini, McIlroy has the one-word moniker like a South American soccer player.

Plus, he might have the best nickname in golf. Fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, McIlroy's predecessor as U.S. Open champion, refers to his friend as "BMW" -- the ultimate driving machine.

The hair

To be a superstar, it helps to have some attribute about your appearance that makes you stand out. Some have things like "Chosen1" tattooed across their back. Some wear a red shirt every Sunday.

That's a little too much for McIlroy.

Instead, it's the trademark locks that billow out beneath his golf cap. Is there a hair care endorsement in the future?

Fast, fast, fast

He plays golf quickly. It might not seem like a big deal, but in golf circles, that's something to hang your hat on. No one wants to be labeled the next Kevin Na.

After talking to a few of the USGA volunteers who were with McIlroy's group Saturday, they said it was hard keeping up with him during his third-round 68.

One of golf's biggest issues is rounds taking way too long. If Rory can be the spokesman, even unofficially, for golfers to pick up the pace of play, then add that to the list of reasons to cheer for the guy.

He's got a spine

McIlroy took some flak for skipping the Players Championship in May. Traditionally, short of injury, hardly anyone passes on the PGA Tour's flagship event (even though he's not a member of the U.S. tour.) No matter how much public scrutiny he faced, he didn't back down. That's a confidence you don't often see, especially in someone so young.

He answered golf's biggest question

"Who's the next Tiger Woods?"

It might be premature, but all indications are that McIlroy has the physical tools and the mental makeup to handle the difficult task ahead of trying to take a place among the greats of the game.

After winning the U.S. Open by eight shots, he's clearly up for the challenge.

And the only reason to not like him?

He isn't going to be playing much golf in the United States this year -- probably not until the WGC-Bridgestone in August -- since he's a member of the European Tour.

And that's our loss.

Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com.