RORY McILROY'S journey to the top of the world seems incredibly fast for those who watched him achieve victory as a mere boy in the West of Ireland and Irish Amateur Close Championships just seven years ago.
Even for someone of McIlroy's outrageous talent, it's stunning how quickly he has matured into a player capable of taking his place as No 1.
His destiny might have appeared clear to those who saw McIlroy, at the unlikely age of 15, romp impishly across Rosses Point to victory over grown men in the 2005 'West'.
Yet pure genius is no guarantee of success in professional golf. Nobody, not even Tiger Woods, was born with the ability to grind out victory on demand over four days at the Honda Classic -- especially in circumstances as difficult as last Sunday as capricious breezes blew across the Champion Course, carrying with them ever increasing roars of approval as, up ahead, Tiger charged to a sensational 62.
Through it all, McIlroy stuck to his task. In the words of his mentor and friend Jack Nicklaus, he 'managed' his game, the course and, above all, himself with maturity well beyond his 22 years.
Like every one of the 15 men who preceded him as world No 1, McIlroy has had to shed his share of sweat and tears on the way to the summit.
In less than five years as a professional, he has enjoyed more elation, has endured as much gut-wrenching frustration and failure, than many of his peers experience in a lifetime.
Above all else, McIlroy's ability to learn from those experiences has propelled him to the top of the world ... and has armed him for the battle to stay there.
"Rory's been getting himself into contention and that is where you learn," says Padraig Harrington.
"Losses along the way have toughened him up because while winning is a habit and a good habit to have, you learn a lot more about your game when you come close and sit there on Sunday evening reflecting on a disappointment."
World No 1s are not born ... they're self-made!
1. OCTOBER 2007
How easy is this? McIlroy, just 18, becomes the youngest player to secure affiliate membership of the European Tour with a stunning third-place finish, worth €211,322, in the Dunhill Links, only his second tournament as a pro.
On the podium at July's British Open at Carnoustie, Harrington had looked at his Claret Jug and then nodded to Amateur Medalist McIlroy, saying: "I'm glad I managed to get my hands on one of these before Rory starts winning them."
Now everyone on Tour knows what the Dubliner was talking about. This Holywood starlet has got the golfing world in his hands.
2. SPRING AND SUMMER 2008
Reality bites for the newcomer on Tour. "The one thing I've learned is you have to work extremely hard out here," says McIlroy, who missed the cut in nine of his first 18 starts that year and had two top 10s -- seventh in the Irish Open in Adare and 10th in the European Open at the London Club.
3. AUGUST 2008
The hills are alive with the sound of Rory-mania. McIlroy shoots a stunning first-round 63 at Crans Sur Sierre in the Swiss Alps and on Sunday stands over a five-foot putt on the 18th for victory in the Omega European Masters.
However, he misses this effort and another putt from 18 inches in the playoff, which was won by Jean-Francois Luquin. The youngster showed character by cheerfully signing autographs as he walked off the green, but doubts about his putting began to take root.
4. FEBRUARY 2009
McIlroy makes a gutsy up-and-down at 18 to clinch his first victory as a pro in the Dubai Desert Classic, then wins American hearts and minds by reaching the quarter-finals of the Accenture Match Play in Tucson, his first appearance as a pro on US soil.
5. APRIL 2009
Nobody forgets their first visit to The Masters but McIlroy's was more memorable than most. The six birdies he shot in a bogey-free final 10 holes on Sunday to claim a share of 20th suggest his game was made for this special place.
Yet McIlroy was fortunate to make the weekend after the tournament committee on Friday night investigated an incident in the greenside bunker at 18 when he 'brushed' the sand with his foot after leaving his first shot in the trap. It was a salutary lesson in self-control.
6. MAY 2009
Whoops! McIlroy naively lands himself in hot water with traditionalists when he tells the media at the 2009 Irish Open at Baltray that the "Ryder Cup is an exhibition at the end of the day. In the big scheme of things, it's not that important an event for me."
It was his honest opinion but those words would haunt the youngster up until his debut at Celtic Manor in 2010 and even beyond.
7. AUGUST 2009
McIlroy completes a satisfying season at the four Majors and shows his mettle by claiming an impressive third-place finish behind YE Yang at the PGA Championship, despite a double-bogey six at Hazeltine's first hole on Sunday.
8. NOVEMBER 2009
McIlroy is beaten by Lee Westwood in an intriguing head-to-head at climax to the Race to Dubai. The Englishman wins comprehensively but is less than gracious to his young International Sports Management stablemate in the post-tournament media conference.
These two engage in a lot of banter on Twitter over the next two years, but their rivalry appears bittersweet.
9. SPRING 2010
A deep-seated sacroiliac (pelvis) strain clearly undermines McIlroy's efforts early in the season. Meanwhile, great expectations stirred by his final-round performance at Augusta 12 months earlier go unfulfilled as Rory fails to make the weekend at The Masters. It's his first missed cut at the Majors.
10. MAY 2010
After scraping through the cut on the mark at Quail Hollow, McIlroy wows America with his outrageous talent by shooting 16-under at the weekend, including a thrilling 62 on Sunday, on a course of true Major championship potential, to clinch an unforgettable first PGA Tour victory.
11. JULY 2010
Though he had missed the cut in the previous month's US Open at Pebble Beach, McIlroy equals the record low score at the Majors with his brilliant 63 on Thursday at St Andrews. But the following day, he is blown off course with a wind-tossed 80.
"The kid's too young to know that sometimes 76 is a good score," tweets US doyen Dan Jenkins. McIlroy recovers well to finish third, but another priceless lesson has been learned.
12. AUGUST 2010
Just home after another third place at the PGA Championship, McIlroy shoots from the lip once again.
This time he hands ammunition to troubled world No 1 Tiger Woods, just named as a captain's pick for Celtic Manor by Ryder Cup skipper Corey Pavin, by saying "I think anyone on the European team would fancy their chances playing him."
13. SEPTEMBER 2010
With little more than a knowing smile and a "we'll see", Tiger cannily turns McIlroy's words against him at a pre-Ryder Cup press conference. The youngster, horrified at the thought that he'd given the opposition an edge, discovers that long, dark night what a good friend he has in fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell.
14. OCTOBER 2010
After playing his part in Europe's victory in that biennial 'exhibition match' against the US at Celtic Manor, McIlroy disarms even the traditionalists by admitting: "The Ryder Cup is fantastic -- great. The best event in golf by far."
15. WINTER 2010
In a move described by his lifelong coach Michael Bannon as one of the most significant in McIlroy's career, the 21-year-old begins working with Lee Westwood's fitness specialist Dr Steve McGregor, who prescribes as series of exercises which build-up his thighs, hips and core strength. This lends stability to his swing and banishes sacroiliac pain.
16. APRIL 2011
Many fear for McIlroy's ability to recover from a catastrophic final-round meltdown at the US Masters: leading by four going into Sunday, he shoots a calamitous 80. Yet the youngster stuns observers with his courage in front of the cameras that evening, and he's equally fearless in his dissection of what went wrong, astutely turning one of the most heart-rending reverses in Masters history into a massively important learning experience.
17. MAY 2011
Carefully sifting the torrent of advice which came his way after Augusta, McIlroy consults with renowned American putting guru Dave Stockton.
Crucially, the two-time PGA champion and former Ryder Cup captain restores the youngster's faith in his natural ability as a putter, banishing past doubts.
This confidence is the bedrock upon which McIlroy's stunning recent form is built.
18. JUNE 2011
Seventy days after his Augusta implosion, McIlroy completes his record-breaking US Open victory. Inexperience at Augusta had led him to believe he should try to copy Tiger's trademark 'hyper-intensity' in that ill-fated final round; yet on Sunday at Congressional he keeps a pledge to be more like his usual self, and it pays off.
19. JULY 3, 2011
McIlroy meets Denmark's world tennis No 1 Caroline Wozniacki at David Haye's world heavyweight title fight with Wladimir Klitschko in Hamburg and they click. He's inspired by the insight he gets into the facts of life on the professional tennis circuit, which in some respects makes the leading golf tours seem like an old boy's network.
20. JULY 2011
McIlroy talks up another storm when he says in a press conference immediately after a windswept final round at Sandwich that he sees no reason to adjust his game for one week each year to cope with sea breezes at the British Open. At the Irish Open, he then fires off a petulant, ill-judged tweet at TV commentator Jay Townsend after harsh criticism by the American of the Ulsterman's course management and caddie JP Fitzgerald. Clearly, McIlroy is bringing unnecessary trouble on himself.
21. AUGUST 2011
An attempt to play a rash shot off tree roots in the first round of the PGA at Augusta Athletic Club leaves McIlroy with an injured wrist and wrecks his prospects in the fourth Major of the season. Later in the season, he'd agree that it was wrong to take such a risk so early in a tournament.
22. OCTOBER 2011
In a move which stuns golf yet underlines McIlroy's determination to be in command of his own career, he parts from his management company, ISM, breaking the news to his long-time mentor and friend Chubby Chandler in the business lounge at JFK Airport in New York as they travel home from the PGA Grand Slam Championship in Bermuda.
Interestingly, he also stops following Westwood on Twitter.
23. NOVEMBER 2011
McIlroy marks his decision to join McDowell at Dublin management company Horizon by winning the record $2m first prize at the inaugural Shanghai Masters, further boosting his confidence with victory at the Hong Kong Open.
24. DECEMBER 2011
Hopes that McIlroy would be able to give Luke Donald a real run for his money at the climax to the Race to Dubai are undermined as he struggles with a suspected case of Dengue Fever. It's a measure of his flourishing form and confidence that the Dubai World Championship is the only time in 12 events up to last Sunday that McIlroy finishes outside the top five.
25. MARCH 2012
Many of the lessons he has learned in four and a half years as a professional are put good effect on Sunday at PGA National as McIlroy grinds out a superb final-round 69 and a two stroke victory in difficult conditions and remains utterly unmoved by a good, old-fashioned Sunday afternoon charge by Woods. It's a performance worthy of the world No 1 and suggests he's capable of holding this position for some time to come.