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updated: 7/20/2014 8:19 PM

Golf's next big thing might already be here

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  • Rory McIlroy holds the claret jug after finishing his wire-to-wire British Open victory, his third major in the career grand slam. McIlroy already is thinking about next year's Masters.

    Rory McIlroy holds the claret jug after finishing his wire-to-wire British Open victory, his third major in the career grand slam. McIlroy already is thinking about next year's Masters.
    Associated Press


The world can stop worrying about the future of professional golf.

"Oh, no," the cry has been, "what's the PGA Tour going to do without Tiger Woods dominating? What are TV networks going to do without those boffo ratings? What's going to happen to tournaments without a star of stars?"

The answers are all the same: They'll survive and eventually thrive again.

That's the only logical conclusion after watching a young man named Rory McIlroy win the British Open on Sunday.

McIlroy is 25 years old and already has won a British, a U.S. Open and a PGA Championship. That puts him in an age class with Woods and Jack Nicklaus, sort of an honors class if you will.

McIlroy said when asked whether going forward he will have their driving ambition, "I definitely hope so. (Golf is) what I think about when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. I want to be the best golfer I can be."

McIlroy isn't Woods or Nicklaus. Not yet anyway. Even if he never is, rest assured that someone else will be.

There's no telling when that will be. It took little more than a decade for Woods to follow Nicklaus.

Now Woods isn't even done yet and McIlroy has inserted himself into the picture by winning three-fourths of a career Grand Slam.

Can a Masters victory be very far in his future?

Whatever happens to McIlroy from here, championship golf will be all right without Woods. It'll be different, for sure, but it'll be all right.

The NFL didn't fold without Joe Montana and John Elway because Peyton Manning and Tom Brady came along.

The NBA has progressed quite nicely from Oscar to Dr. J to Magic to His Airness to Kobe to King James.

Sometimes we forget that even before Woods and going back beyond Nicklaus there were Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones.

Clearly, life goes on, and so do sports.

Golf always will be golf because Germans such as Martin Kaymer will attempt to surpass a Bernhard Langer and Aussies such as Adam Scott will follow in the spike prints of a Greg Norman.

Storylines will surface like Rory McIlroy pursuing the legends, emerging stars like Rickie Fowler trying to record their first major victory sooner than later and 30-somethings like Sergio Garcia shooting to fulfill their promise later than sooner.

Plus, yes, an outstanding golfer will be designated the best player never to win a major.

While Rory McIlroy chases Woods and Nicklaus, rest assured the likes of Jordan Spieth will chase and maybe pass them all.

In the meantime, golf might slump a bit because Woods' magnetism will be harder to match than his accomplishments.

All sports run in cycles. None has had as many ebbs and flows as baseball, but it's so entrenched in Americana that every ebb is followed by a flow.

The same goes for golf. TV networks might not bid as high for PGA Tour events with Woods fading, but what else are they going to program on summer weekends?

As for the golfers themselves, are tournaments going to have trouble filling fields if first-place money shrinks to a mere $1 million? Uh, probably not.

For now, even if the sport takes some time to replace Woods, enough talented players are coming around to sustain interest.

Golf could do worse than to have this guy McIlroy be the one leading the way.

The young man from Northern Ireland has a great way about him … an easy smile, comfortable candor and refreshing humility.

"I never dreamed of being at this point of my career so quickly," Rory McIlroy said.

Yep, competitive golf will be just fine.

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