Many times the pair of words "what if" crawls into the minds of greedy sports fans. Together they generally open up a slew of unrealistic fantasies. However, when used in realistic context, "what if" can provide some of the most stimulating conversation starters.
What if Clay Matthews hadn't chased down Kevin Kolb and sent him on his way to concussion tests and a backup role behind the newly unproven ex-con Michael Vick? What if LeBron James decided to take his talents elsewhere, like to Chicago, to accentuate Derrick Rose? What if the NFLPA and team owners were not able to come to grips with their wants and needs in time for the entertainment starved fans? Wouldn't sports be different?
The past year in professional golf is no different, and the question of "what if?" relates to one man, Rory McIlroy. This curly-haired kid from Northern Ireland that rocks a Jumeirah sponsorship all over the golf course was in the spotlight all year long and rightfully so; the guy has game. He hammers 300-yard drives with effortless ease and sports one of the prettiest swings in the lucrative business.
He jumped onto the scene this April dominating the Masters through three rounds of play. The freckled smile that charmed golf fans for three days turned into a red-faced frown with his book full of bogeys on the back nine.
Without his abominable collapse, Rory goes on to smile for weeks while Charles Schwartzel waits even longer for his first major victory. The hangover from Rory's first major victory would have likely lasted until the practice rounds of the US Open, the major McIlroy actually won.
He put up a fight with Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters, and eventually, the course won. The Congressional Country Club from Bethesda, Maryland, quickly failed as his next challenger. Rory dominated, and no other word does his performance justice. Starting with an opening round 65, Rory signed every card with a score in the 60's.
After setting US Open records and drawing comparisons to Tiger Woods' magical performance in 2000, golfers, analysts and fans alike were left wondering "what if" Rory would have finished what he started in early April. That would leave him halfway home on his trek to singlehandedly rule the game of golf in 2011.
McIlroy would have been the hottest and most feared golfer in the world. There would be no talk about the potential of Martin Kaymer, the impeccable short game of Phil Mickelson, or the uncanny consistency of Lee Westwood.
More importantly, there would be no discussion of the former greatness displayed year in and year out by that fella named Tiger. That discussion would instead be focused on the mammoth drives bound for the fairway and the 15-foot putts being holed out with regularity by the 22-year-old McIlroy.
As soon as Darren Clarke wins the 2011 British Open, golf fans everywhere would have began to question what is in the water up there in Northern Ireland. After all, that country lays claim to three of the last six major championships. Rory could have certainly made that four of six, cementing Northern Ireland in golf history.
Even further stipulation arose when McIlroy hurt his wrist during the first round of the PGA Championship. He injured his wrist when he mistakenly struck a tree root near his ball on the third hole of the championship. Rory went on to struggle with the injury throughout ensuing rounds. He didn't quit, however, but continued simply 'because it was a major'.
It's clear to see what this kid is after; majors, and lots of them. The conversation of multiple major victories has known few names over the past decade, and it finally knows another.
His next opportunity will be at Augusta National again, during the Masters. Will he be able to do it, and don the green jacket? 'What if' he does?