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Rory McIlroy: Can He Still Be the No. 1 Golfer of 2012?

LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND - JULY 20:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland speaks with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald on the the fifth tee during the second round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club on July 20, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
David LevinSenior Writer IIJuly 20, 2012

He wasn't happy when he was interviewed earlier on ESPN. You could see the frustration and disappointment in his face, the round that he shot 75 and the hope he will be around for another day at Lytham.

For Rory McIlroy, the first two days of the Open Championship were more about survival than actually challenging for another major title.

Right now, he is tied for 51st, which is good enough to keep him around for another two days. But his hopes of claiming another major title are all but out the window. Does this mean McIlroy’s dreams of being the best golfer in the world at the end of the year are forgotten?

Not in the least.

McIlroy gave away the 2011 Masters with a collapse that can only be described as “unbelievable” only to come back to the U.S. Open and make the tournament his own stomping ground. The 23-year old golfer from Northern Ireland has barely scratched the surface of how good he could or is going to be.

Remember, he is only 23.

In a story on ESPN.com, McIlroy said Friday was not one of his best days in a major championship, but being around for the weekend will allow him to try and improve on what he accomplished so far.

"It wasn't the best day out there,'' said the 2011 U.S. Open champion in the article, who is ranked second in the world. “I was doing pretty well just to hang in there around par on the front nine. And making a double on the ninth was sort of the turning point in the round and I couldn't really recover from that.”

It seemed that McIlroy and other former major winners (Phil Mickelson included) were having a tough time with Lytham and could not recover once his game started to unravel.

This sets up nicely for McIlroy with a few more months left in the season and a chance to make further create a buzz heading into the PGA Championship later on this year.

While Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald look to be in the hunt with under-par scores through Friday, the course all but tore up Lee Westwood, who was 3-over and tied for 71st after Thursday.

So much for seeing one of golf’s best win a major tournament for the first time.

McIlroy’s poor showing and Tiger Woods’ rise through the leaderboard could also be a “selling point” heading into the PGA. Could we see the new guard challenging the old? Does Tiger have his game back? Is McIlroy ready to prove he is the best in the world by topping the one golfer we all thought at one point was invincible?

Time can only tell.

But at 23 years old and many years ahead of him, I doubt, and the world doubts this is a major setback. Just consider it a lesson in a very steep learning curve.

We all want McIlroy to take his place amongst the golf elite. We all just may have to wait a little longer than we hoped.

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