AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Major champion and former winning U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger says Rory McIlroy has a winning personality and is becoming the face of golf, but should not be compared to the game’s latest king, Tiger Woods.
“I don’t think Rory can ever beat Tiger,” Azinger told Reuters on Tuesday under Augusta National’s massive oak tree in front of the clubhouse as players set off for Masters practice.
“I don’t think anyone can ever do what Tiger did. That level of domination is something that no one ever saw coming or expected to ever see again. I don’t expect to see anybody do what Tiger did and I think that’s an unfair bar for Rory.”
That said, the 25-year-old McIlroy is on the brink of becoming second youngest, behind Woods, to register a career grand slam, needing a Masters win to complete the set and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods.
McIlroy has won the last two majors to bring his total to four. Woods has 14 and Nicklaus tops the list with 18.
“Rory is rapidly becoming the most famous guy in the game,” said Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner, adding that part of McIlroy’s broad appeal is his down to earth personality.
“He’s a common guy that can do uncommon things. He’s totally one of the guys -- that’s reached superstar status.”
Azinger, now an ESPN golf commentator, said McIlroy stands at the top of the emerging class of young players making their mark.
“He’s as polished as anybody at the highest level and he’s got four majors under his belt already so the burden of proof is gone.”
McIlroy’s popularity and accomplishments are bound to grow, according to both Azinger and nine-time majors winner Gary Player.
Player said he expected McIlroy to surpass him for most majors won by a non-American.
“Records are made to be broken, that’s just natural,” the South African said. “I expect Rory to win more than nine.”
Said Azinger: “I always have liked his joyful enthusiasm. He plays like a kid without a care in the world. You see guys a lot of times look like they’re playing with their last golf ball but he doesn’t play that way, he’s free-wheeling.”
Added Player: “What makes a superstar? It’s called ‘it’, and God lends it to you. Rory has that thing called ‘it’.”
Editing by Andrew Both