McIlroy's star continues to climb


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- After edging Phil Mickelson in the gloaming Sunday night at the 96th PGA Championship, what's on the horizon for four-time major champ Rory McIlroy?

A green jacket and with it the career Grand Slam? How about PGA Tour Player of the Year honors?

Our scribes dive into those topics and more in the latest edition of Four-Ball.

1. What's the next step for Rory McIlroy?

Michael Collins, senior golf analyst: Rest for a bit. Win the FedEx Cup. Win the Ryder Cup. Then on to Augusta National Golf Club and the talk of the "Rory Slam." The PGA Tour is going to ride his coattails into the playoffs, and rightly so. He earned POY with this win.

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer: McIlroy will win many more majors. Perhaps Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and a few others will stop McIlroy from catching and passing Tiger Woods' 14 majors (even as Tiger is still aiming for Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles). McIlroy's life will continue to get more complicated as he masters the pressure of superstardom. But I would pick him over any player in the world to handle a future as bright as the one in front of him.

Bob Harig, senior golf writer: McIlroy said he wants to become the most successful European Tour player, a noble goal. But if he is lacking something, it is consistency. He is on a great hot streak. It won't continue. But can he minimize the down times, the tough times, and turn poor performances into good ones? That's a good next step.

Kevin Maguire, senior golf editor: It's easy to put McIlroy in the "next Tiger" category, but I'll be more interested to see how he handles the immense pressure that will come in April at the Masters. He'll be going for not only a third straight major win but also the career Grand Slam. And he'll have to answer questions about it for the next eight months at nearly every event he plays.

Ian O'Connor, senior writer: McIlroy will help Europe win the Ryder Cup in convincing fashion, although I suspect he'll be too mentally and physically fried to take the FedEx Cup. In the end, his real next step is Augusta, his final frontier.

Gene Wojciechowski, senior national columnist: He said it himself: Enjoy the moment and concentrate on the now. It's worked pretty well in the past three-plus weeks.

2. What did we learn about Phil Mickelson at the PGA?

Collins: That he's still the most fun ride at the Professional Golf Amusement Park. Last week he had no clue what was wrong. Now he almost wins another major. He said it well -- if he stays healthy, he could have three to four good years left.

Evans: Phil still has the desire and game to win major championships. Maybe he doesn't want to compete 20 weeks a year. But four times a year, he can raise his game to compete with the very best in the world.

Harig: He's still got game. This has been a frustrating year for Phil, but were it not for a few bounces here or there, a few putts, he'd have won his sixth major. And despite the disappointment, he talked positively about the future.

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