McIlroy's star continues to climb

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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, ESPN.com 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, ESPN.com 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, ESPN.com 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, ESPN.com 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, ESPNNewYork.com 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, ESPN.com 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.

Maguire: That he isn't done with the majors just yet. Sure, it was his first top-10 on the PGA Tour this year, but a finish like this will get Lefty focused again, not just for the playoffs starting in a couple of weeks but more importantly for the 2015 major season.

O'Connor: We learned he's still capable of greatness, and still very much a threat to win a fourth green jacket in April. We learned that, at age 44, he can still go blow for blow with a 25-year-old juggernaut.

Wojciechowski: That Mickelson is 44 but still plays like 34. He said earlier in the week that he felt his game was on the brink of championship quality -- and he was right. We learned, for the millionth time, that Mickelson is an amazing competitor.


3. Fill in the blank: Rickie Fowler showed _________ at Valhalla.

Collins: The same guts and grit as in the other three majors this year. It's a shame for him it had to end like that, rushing in the dark at Valhalla.

Evans: With his performance in the majors this year, he brought his game to a new level of visibility that will keep us engaged for a long time, whenever he tees it up. It was his loud colored clothes that first captured our attention; now it's his tenacity and fight to win the most prestigious events in the world.

Harig: Hurt. This one stung Fowler. He's been hanging around in the majors all year, but in this one, he had a legitimate chance to win on the back nine. He was tied for the lead but couldn't quite get the birdies necessary. Another top-notch major performance, but it wasn't enough.

Maguire: Fowler showed a major championship victory is likely just around the corner. You don't hang that tough on that course with that leaderboard without proving you have the mettle to win a major.

O'Connor: Talent and toughness. Fowler is just one or two loose shots from breaking through in a major. He'll ultimately win more than one and end up as his generation's Phil to McIlroy's Tiger.

Wojciechowski: Heart ? patience ? maturity. I love his style and his competitiveness. Four top-5 finishes in this year's majors.


4. What's your lasting impression of the PGA Championship?

Collins: Winning score was 16 under and it was the most exciting major we had this year. People can say what they want about how majors should be tough tests, but when it comes down to it, birdies and eagles are much more fun to watch (even at a major) than bogeys and pars.

Evans: I will forever cherish McIlroy's 284-yard 3-metal at the 10th hole Sunday to set up the eagle to get him back to within a shot of the lead. That was as clutch as it gets in a major championship.

Harig: That Rory did it again. This has been an impressive stretch and an important one for golf. The game has been dying for someone to dominate. We've got him right now.

Maguire: The 96th PGA will certainly be remembered for McIlroy's fourth major win, but more noteworthy to me is that he was the overwhelming favorite and overcame the spotlight to take home the title. One of the hardest things to do is win when you are expected to, no matter the sport. And that is exactly what Rory accomplished.

O'Connor: That I still can't believe they got all four rounds in despite the weather. Beyond that, it was a great major with a great leaderboard.

Wojciechowski: It was a living, breathing golf soap opera. Never a dull moment. And as it turned out, never a dry moment, either. But it was easily the most entertaining major of the year.

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