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Rory-ing in the Pines

By: Jay Flemma


He's finally only one round away. All the promise, all the hope, all the smiles, all the giddiness we felt when Tiger Woods was streaking skyward like a rocket. We're feeling it again. And this time, it may be the real thing.

There's no question Rory McIlroy's game is sublime. The cool final-round 62 he threw at supposedly unconquerable Quail Hollow last year heralded the arrival of another possible wunderkind, but the PGA Tour has had several prior false starts when telling us who to expect as the Next Big Thing.

That 62, which gave McIlroy is first pro win the U.S., was a clarion call the likes of which we haven't seen since Woods. In his 2010 rookie year, McIlroy toyed with winning both the British Open and the PGA Championship before a mutinous putter betrayed him.

This year started like a sophomore slump, but now after taking the lead on Thursday morning with a sizzling 65 he's not been atop the leaderboard for exactly one hole. McIlroy is not quite dominating the tournament, but the 75th Masters is his coming-out party.

"Patience and patience," he repeated Saturday evening in Georgia. No Buddhist monk ever clung to so poignant a mantra. "I stuck to my game plan really well . . . things weren't going that well for me, 1-over through 12 holes, and then played the last six holes in 3-under. It was great."

Now he holds a four-shot lead in a Masters decidedly bereft of experience. Of the top eight players - those within six shots of the lead, only Angel Cabrera has won a major before.

But more than just a great golfer, McIlroy is everything Woods promised us but wasn't: clean-cut, forthright, affable and approachable, and not a surly, selfish and duplicitous celebrity. Fame and money ruined Tiger Woods - so did all his sycophants, but if we learn from our mistakes and let a guy be a golfer and not get carried away with creating false idols we can enjoy something pure.

And is anyone more pure, friendly, more excitedly Irish than the smiling, badly Afro-headed young kid who combines "green and grateful" with world-class talent? Who is Rory's posse?: A gaggle of middle-aged golf journalists who love golf, God and Irish whiskey. Golf your ball, drink your whiskey, cherish your friends. Is there any wonder the world loves the Irish?

Meet the anti-Tiger - exactly what golf needs. Substance not veneer, friendliness not standoffishness, and respect not entitlement. Tim Finchem is incapable of making the PGA Tour about anything other than Tiger, so someone else will have to do it for him. You want a superstar?

If he can steer clear of putting woes and keep us all from getting agita tomorrow afternoon, you'll get a major one.

Someone you can also be proud to root for.

Odds & Ends

• Watch out for Angel Cabrera tomorrow. He not only won at Augusta in 2009, but also the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, which is strikingly similar to Augusta National with its canted greens and wild undulations.

• Choi-ous occasion - NOT! After a birdie, K.J. Choi awkwardly tried to high-five a fist bump with his caddie. He's lucky he didn't poke the poor guy in the eye.

• Luke Donald - Pink and green??? Is he off to a Deerfield Academy alumni reunion after the round? I haven't seen an outfit that bad since Judge Smails went crazy with a Platinum card and had to be told to put down the LL Bean catalog and slowly back away. Do they have an anonymous group for that? "Hello, my name is Luke and I dress like an idiot…" He better not win the green jacket in that atrocity. If he does, arrest him on general principle.



Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.