Rory McIlroy - British, 22, Golf (21)
The hard-hitting Northern Irishman with the easy gait and the warm smile came of age in 2011. No longer just a promising youngster, Rory McIlroy put the memory of a disastrous capitulation in the final round of last year’s Masters firmly behind him when, with commendable maturity and no small amount of skill, he bounced back almost immediately at the US Open to claim his long awaited first Major crown and affirm his place among the golfing elite.
Around the world, course-side spectators will him on with the kind of enthusiasm reserved for sons and daughters, while global television audiences, powerless nail-biters in front of television sets, root for the life-loving local lad with the attractive tennis-playing girlfriend as if his ongoing adventure, which has taken him across America and beyond from the Shire-like haven of County Down, were a serialised drama of epic proportions.
Sponsors, too, find him irresistible. Ever comfortable with the media and a consummate public speaker, McIlroy’s multi-year deal with Santander UK last September was just reward for a young man with the world at his admirably grounded feet and a precursor to the eye-watering riches that await him.
His October split from long-time manager Chubby Chandler at ISM to join Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management – the company now managing an endorsement portfolio that also includes Audemars Piguet, Footjoy, Jumeirah, Oakley, Skins, Sunseeker and Titleist – was a further sign that this 22-year-old will continue to pave his own path.