Rory McIlroy can win another 15 Majors, says Padraig Harrington
Dubliner backs Open hero to match Nicklaus record by striking while iron is hot
Open champion Rory McIlroy will need a trophy cabinet as big as a house to accommodate all the silverware he's going to collect at the Major championships.
Padraig Harrington reckons the Holywood star, given good health and fair fortune, can win up to 15 more Major titles.
Last Sunday's Open victory at Hoylake brought world No 2 McIlroy's tally to three, so another 15 would equal the all-time record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.
Yet Harrington explains that outside factors, like the back surgery which ruled Tiger Woods out of this year's Masters and US Open, can "throw a spanner in the works".
McIlroy, still only 25, must strike while his game is hot and rack up as many Majors as he can at the peak of his form and fitness.
"Rory has won three Majors in four years, which is pretty good," says the Dubliner, who also has contributed three to Ireland's splendid tally of eight Major titles since 2007.
"If he continues to win at that rate, he'll have a very successful career," adds Harrington. "He could be competitive for the next 20 years ... and that's 15 more Majors.
"But as we've found with other players, there are things we can't foresee down the road.
"Nobody ever would have thought Tiger would stop at 14. When he got to 14 it appeared almost inevitable he'd get to 18.
"Just because you're good enough doesn't mean it's going to happen. Things happen, injuries for example.
"If Rory is to get to high numbers, it is the next (few) years that will determine it. The more years where he wins two or three, that's how you get to 14 ... Tiger had four in a calendar year.
"In 10 years' time, then (his strike rate) might slow down to one every two years, so he won't be as prolific. So the time for him to play his 'A' game is right now.
"Age is on his side, but not necessarily time. I do see a change coming quickly in golf with Rory driving the ball probably better than anybody else in the game.
"There are a couple of guys longer than him but he is more effective, he hits it straighter and higher. So he has an advantage and he lives off that advantage because the courses and conditions suit him.
"At the moment when he plays well he has stolen a march on everybody else.
"Whoever it is, if he's got his 'A' game, whoever is trying to beat him will need their 'A' game to be there with him. Whether that's an Adam Scott or Tiger (Woods), they're going to have to play their very best to compete with Rory."
Right now, Harrington insists, McIlroy "has the ability to go into the Majors as favourite for a long number of years. But, in time, the kids in college now are going to learn from Rory and come out with similar games. They might not be as good as him but they will have similarities. There will be more players like him.
"Tiger had that advantage and it's been eaten up now and Rory's advantage will be eaten up in time too."
Of course, there are others capable of winning Major titles now. "Somebody like Adam Scott or Henrik Stenson can be right there," Harrington muses. "Maybe Jason Day if he starts winning in Majors has the physical side of the game.
"Yet the hardest thing in golf is winning from the front and Rory is very capable of doing that."
As for his prospects of equalling the Golden Bear's record, Harrington explains: "I was talking about that purely on the basis of years. If you want to get to (18), you have to start winning young because you're not going to win many Majors after 40.
"Like Tiger, Rory's started going that way (early)."
While the Claret Jug is a trophy many believed McIlroy could not win, he's certainly got the high ball flight for Augusta where next year he'll bid to become only the sixth winner of a career Grand Slam.
"The world was saying he can't play a links golf course," Harrington enthuses. "What I like is that he got the opportunity this week when the weather was good, (his) half the field got the right side of the draw and he took advantage of it. That's the big difference."
McIlroy flew back to Belfast yesterday with mum Rosie and dad Gerry. He's off to Gleneagles tomorrow to fulfil a commitment to sponsors Omega Watches, then on Friday he prepares for next week's World Golf Championship in Akron, Ohio, before returning to Major action the following week at Valhalla in the US PGA, for which McIlroy already is 6/1 favourite.