Talented trio herald new world order
Three young men were threatening to write a new page in golf's great history at the US Open yesterday.
The race to become the new US Open champion for 2011 was one thing. But what Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, plus the South African duo Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, were threatening to do was create an entire new order in the pantheon of golf's greats.
Oosthuizen, the reigning British Open champion, set the tone on the first day at Congressional Country Club with a fine two-under-par 69. On a course as tricky and tough as this, that was worth anyone's attention.
But what followed was a fascinating encounter that lit up the opening day at the US Open and had Americans fearful of the consequences of a future dominated by McIlroy, the brilliantly precocious young Northern Irishman, and the two young South Africans.
McIlroy -- destroyed by the aura of the US Masters earlier this year in his final round at Augusta and filled with anguish as Schwartzel cruised past him to glory -- had his revenge on the first day here, firing a fabulous 65, six-under-par. The round was inevitably rich in quality, but what was more important was that it lit the blue touch paper of a golfing challenge that could endure for years.
For 'Nicklaus v Palmer v Player' from golf's golden era, now read 'McIlroy v Schwartzel v Oosthuizen', the coming giants. Maybe. But what is certain is that all three young men have the brio, the appeal and the exalted skill levels to take golf into a new, post-Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson era.
If their progress continues, we are not going to be bored for one moment by the myriad talents of these young players.
Woods did not so much arrive on the world's golfing stage, as explode on to it. Such was his mastery, no other player could seriously challenge him on a regular basis, as Nicklaus and Player did to Palmer.
Their rivalry fascinated golf for decades and much the same could now happen with McIlroy, aged 22, and the two South Africans; Schwartzel (26) and Oosthuizen (28).
Clearly, all three have the game to become huge successes in their sport. But each has a whole lot more: an ability to handle the hype, negotiate the fuss and remain focused. They remain modest, approachable and diligent in their duties to the sport. These are qualities that have hallmarked the great players down the years.
McIlroy's first round was so much a statement of intent after his US Masters setback that it would have intimidated lesser talents than Schwartzel. It is a reasonable analogy that the massive storm which broke over the Washington area late Thursday night had been preceded by a human storm kicked up by McIlroy earlier in the day.
But Schwartzel, the young South African, has grown years in the weeks since the coveted Green Jacket was put on his shoulders that famous Sunday evening at Augusta. He carries himself with a calm and purpose that would do credit to a man a decade older.
Schwartzel knew he had to deliver on Day 1, to hang on to McIlroy's coat-tails, but also emphasise his own threat. He did it with aplomb, completing a round of 68 that oozed class and control.
Nothing fazes Schwartzel, and little seems to bother Oosthuizen. His 69 was a similar statement of his intent and it impressed a lot of good judges of the game.
Others had their moments over the first two days. But it was McIlroy, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen, the coming young men of world golf who caught the eye.
If this challenge lasts four days over Congressional's long, rolling acreage, no one is going to want to go home on Monday.