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    • McIlroy era different than Woods era, and that's fine

    • Rory McIlroy is looking for his third consecutive win this week while Tiger Woods is struggling. (Lintoa Zhang/Getty Images) Rory McIlroy is looking for his third consecutive win this week while Tiger Woods is struggling. (Lintoa Zhang/Getty Images)

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As Tiger Woods limped away from Firestone Country Club last Sunday afternoon, his future and body riddled with more questions than answers, Rory McIlroy was on his way to winning his first World Golf Championships title.

    This week, McIlroy will try to become the first player since Woods in 2008 to win three straight starts on the PGA TOUR when he tees it up at the PGA Championship.

    Time will tell if all this is a passing-of-the-torch moment between the soon-to-be 39-year-old Woods and the 25-year-old and new world No. 1 McIlroy. At the very least it has opened the door to the conversation.

    McIlroy of course isn’t one for symbolic moments, or declaring this the era of Rory. He prefers to leave that to everyone else.

    “Sometimes I feel that people are too quick to jump to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon,” he said Tuesday from Valhalla Country Club. “I've had a great run of golf and I've played well over the past few months.”

    It’s also not the first time he has had such a stretch.

    From June 2011 through the end of 2012, McIlroy won seven times around the world, including two majors in record fashion.

    Then he split from his former management company, made an equipment change and called off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki, all in the 18 months that followed. That’s a lot of life events for anyone, much less someone in his early 20s dealing with superstardom for the first time.

    Eventually, though, McIlroy settled into his equipment, tried to simplify his life and figured out a few more things along the way. It helps to have friends like Jack Nicklaus to lean on.

    Earlier this year the two had a long conversation at Nicklaus’ office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and soon after McIlroy started playing, by his own admission, the best golf of his career.

    “It started out not about golf,” McIlroy said of his hours-long get-together with the Golden Bear. “I wanted to know how he managed his time because I’ve gotten busier over the last couple of years, then it turned into just everything.

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    “He was telling stories about how he felt going into tournaments, golf course design, maybe doing a course with me some day, his brand and what legacy he wants to leave behind.”

    With three major championships under his belt, McIlroy is just starting to forge his legacy.

    But even if he were to complete the career Grand Slam at next year’s Masters, he has a long way to go to catch Woods in that department. Woods has achieved the career Grand Slam three times.

    Whether or not we’ve officially entered into the Rory era, it figures to likely be different than the dominance Woods displayed at his peak for a decade -- partly because McIlroy has already shown on more than a few occasions that he can follow an exceptionally good round with a preposterously bad one, and partly because of his peers.

    At 34 years old, Adam Scott, is old enough to have been a part of both eras.

    “The biggest difference between me seeing Tiger play like that when I was a lot younger, less experienced and not as good a player, and seeing a guy like Rory really stamp his authority down the last two weeks … is that I believe I'm a better player and I can play at that level,” said Scott, who McIlroy supplanted atop the Official World Golf Ranking last week. “I think 10 or 15 years ago, I didn't have that belief, through lack of experience or whatever it might be.

    “I think the biggest thing that held me back was not believing and probably most guys felt like we were beaten before we got out there. And that's different now for tons of reasons. I've said a lot that I feel this is my time, so I've got to beat whatever Rory is trying out there and I believe I can.”

    McIlroy’s own belief is just as high, and with good reason.

    He is driving it farther and straighter than he ever has after tightening up his swing. Last week, he led the field in distance off the tee and, consequently, greens in regulation.

    McIlroy is also so comfortable with his putting -- typically the weakest part of his game -- that most of his interactions with Dave Stockton these days revolve on mental approach, if anything at all.

    The result?

    McIlroy has eight top 10s, including two wins and a runner-up, in a dozen starts on TOUR this season. He also beat Scott in Australia at the end of 2013 and this year won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, a course he hadn’t exactly had the best track record on.

    “I said at the start of the year that golf was looking for someone to put their hand up and sort of become one of the dominant players in the game,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had the ability to do that, and it's just nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel like I should be.”

    Not that McIlroy is declaring this his era. He'll leave that to us anyway.

    “People can say what they want to say, that's fine,” McIlroy said. “But I can't read too much into it. If you read everything that was being written, I'd turn up at the first tee on Thursday thinking I'd already won the tournament.”

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