- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - So much felt the same to Rory McIlroy.

Draped behind his seat was a white banner filled with red-and-blue USGA logos, similar to the backdrop a year ago when he last faced a room full of reporters at the U.S. Open. The only thing missing was the silver trophy, which McIlroy had to return this week.

So much has changed.

A star was born last year at Congressional. McIlroy set the kind of records that once belonged to another young phenom _ Tiger Woods _ when he finished at 16-under 268 to win by eight shots. He was so good that the tournament effectively ended before the weekend arrived when McIlroy opened with rounds of 65-66, which included a double bogey.

Padraig Harrington suggested that the 22-year-old McIlroy ultimately might be the guy to challenge the Jack Nicklaus benchmark of 18 majors.

The kid remains 17 majors away.

Just as challenging is the scrutiny he faces off the golf course. His girlfriend is tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, and they have been photographed in Paris and New York, once with McIlroy taking the court against Maria Sharapova during an exhibition at Madison Square Garden. After his practice Tuesday at Olympic Club, he was headed to AT&T Park to throw out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game. There’s even a Rory McIlroy bobblehead doll.

This is the stuff of Hollywood, not his blue-collar hometown of Holywood in Northern Ireland.

It hasn’t all been a life of glitter. McIlroy fired his agent, Chubby Chandler, who discovered him when he was a teenage prodigy. The decision pitted McIlroy against Lee Westwood, leading to a few awkward exchanges on Twitter. McIlroy also made headlines across Britain for tossing a club on his way to missing the cut at Wentworth.

They used to talk about McIlroy because of his golf and his potential.

Now they talk about McIlroy for just about any reason.

“The most that’s changed about my life? Sure, I think I’m viewed different by the golfing public, and maybe more recognized outside of golf now because of that win,” he said. “And the thing that’s changed about me? It’s really just given me a lot of self-belief knowing that I’ve won one of these before and that I can go and I can do it again.

“Hopefully,” he added, “it didn’t change me much as a person. I still feel like the same person who sat here, or sat at Congressional, a year ago and was doing a press conference.”

He’s holding his own in that department.

When he missed the cut at Memorial for his third straight weekend off, he was drawing comparisons with Woods for all the wrong reasons. Woods never missed three straight cuts in his career. It was the eighth cut McIlroy had missed in his young career, as many as Woods had missed in 16 years. And on it went.

Story Continues →