Rory's reign starts here
McIlroy turns final-round ordeal into his coronation procession
Rory McIlroy, the irresistible young Congressional candidate, was sworn in last night as golf's new global leader after a victory in the 111th US Open which was as thrilling for the game as it was chilling for his rivals. Washington is well accustomed to landslides but even the nation's capital was left open-mouthed by the one-sided nature of this contest.
When the 22-year-old tapped in on the 18th to become the youngest European winner of a major in 139 years he was eight shots clear of Jason Day in second. Has there ever been a greater contrast between a player at successive majors? At the Masters, the Ulsterman was a crumpled figure after a final-round 80 which broke a million hearts. Just two months later he stepped on to the final green like a colossus, with the world, and more particular its mother, weeping at golf's ultimate redemption.
This was not a tournament, it was a coronation, with one of the most well-received processions the sport will ever witness. Every stride he took, the noise became louder as the galleries realised they were acclaiming history. At 16-under, with 268 shots, his final-round 69 making it all four rounds in the 60s, McIlroy broke the US Open's lowest total record by four. What a way for Northern Ireland to celebrate the almost surreal achievement of winning the game's toughest major twice in as many years.
No, McIlroy did not emulate the 15-shot triumph by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, but in becoming the youngest winner of the US Open in 88 years, he reminded everyone of the 14-time major winner in his pomp. With Woods back at home in his Florida home wearing an immobilising boot to protect his injured Achilles, this was perfect timing on McIlroy's behalf. It feels like a succession, he looks like the heir, it is surely the start of a new era. McIlroy may have only advanced to world No 3 with this win, but everybody appreciates there is a new King on the throne. The Prince has come of age.
And what credibility this major lent to his accession. In becoming the US Open's seventh wire-to-wire winner McIlroy had created so many records even before he ambled on to the property yesterday. He posted the lowest 36-hole total in the tournament's history and the lowest 54-hole total. He matched Woods' largest 36-hole lead of six shots and became the first player in the US Open to reach 13-under, 14-under, 15-under, 16-under, 17-under. By the way the US Open has been going for 115 years.
McIlroy, meanwhile, has been going for all of 11 majors and when his inexperience is put alongside the fact that he has led in seven out of the eight majors rounds thus far contested in 2011 – and more incredibly, in 135 of the 144 holes – there can be little wonder the pronouncements and predictions will be on the vast side of substantial. Experts such as Padraig Harrington were even daring to say he could be bigger than Tiger.
The reason why was written all over his four scorecards. True, the rains had softened Congressional to a status so benign it barely resembled a US Open leaderboard. In all 20 players finished under par and those golfing sadists at the USGA usually care to see one player in the red, perhaps none. But still, the gaping gap back to the rest highlighted McIlroy's dominance.
It was not just his golf – although that was as near to flawless as it is possible to be – but the manner in which he composed himself throughout the examination. He said he had learned his lessons from his Masters meltdown and he proved so in a style that should embarrass his many doubters. His course-management was steeped in maturity, his temperament drenched in serenity. McIlroy, with just two previous professional titles to his name, has plainly unlocked the secret of his potential and that should be genuinely terrifying for the others.
So much for majors not being won on Saturdays. He treated yesterday like some sort of form-filling formality. How impressive was the opening to the round? Well, he birdied the first, after striking a wedge to eight feet, birdied the fourth, after striking a wedge to four feet and so lengthened the already lengthy eight-shot lead. Yet it was the par saves he made which truly spelt out his conviction. He had yet to three-putt all week and showed his determination not to; first when holing a six-footer on the second and then, most impressively, when holing a 15-footer on the fifth.
Stress-free pars followed until the 10th when McIlroy decided to put some daylight between himself and Y E Yang, who with a couple of birdies, had dared to cut the deficit from 10 to eight. Here came the highlight of the day, a six-iron hit straight over the flag on the 281-yard par three, spinning it back to within a few inches of the cup. It was over, finito, goodbye rivals, hello immortality.
McIlroy had sucked all the drama out of the action, just like Woods used to. There was one hiccup when he bogeyed the 12th, but no matter, he is human. With the glory confirmed but still impending, it was easy for him to be distracted but a three-putt on the 17th snapped him back into the moment. His two-putt from off the green on the 18th was the finish of a champion.
In the huge shadow cast by his brilliance it was all too easy to overlook those trudging in behind. Jason Day, a 23-year-old Australian, showed his guts to take runner-up honours for the second time in as many majors, while in a tie for third came Lee Westwood, with his fifth top three placing his last seven majors. But what of the Americans? For the first time in history they have gone five majors without a winner. Two chaps called Robert Garrigus and Kevin Chappell were their highest finishers alongside Westwood and Yang.
Still at least they had McIlroy to cheer and the locals did so with gusto. The chant of "Lets go Rory, lets go" reverberated around the trees all weekend. Rory was true to his word and got going. All the way on to a whole new level of excellence, fame and yes, wealth. Will there be any stopping this Holywood superstar now? Tiger is probably better off on his sofa.
Congressional G & CC, Bethesda, Maryland (US unless stated, par 71)
268 R McIlroy (NIrl) 65 66 68 69;
276 J Day (Aus) 71 72 65 68;
278 R Garrigus 70 70 68 70, K Chappell 76 67 69 66, Y E Yang (S Kor) 68 69 70 71, L Westwood (Eng) 75 68 65 70;
279 P Hanson (Swe) 72 71 69 67, S Garcia (Spa) 69 71 69 70;
280 C Schwartzel (SA) 68 74 72 66, L Oosthuizen (SA) 69 73 71 67;
281 D Love III 70 71 70 70, H Slocum 71 70 70 70, B Snedeker 70 70 72 69;
282 F Jacobson (Swe) 74 69 66 73, G McDowell (NIrl) 70 74 69 69, B Van Pelt 76 67 68 71, M Kuchar 72 68 69 73, W Simpson 75 71 66 70;
283 S Stricker 75 69 69 70; J Edfors (Swe) 70 72 74 67;
284 R Palmer 69 72 73 70; P Cantlay 75 67 70 72;
285 D Johnson 75 71 69 70; R Rock (Eng) 70 71 76 68; B Haas 73 73 68 71; R Goosen (SA) 73 73 71 68; G Woodland 73 71 73 68;
286 R Ishikawa (Japan) 74 70 74 68; R Sabbatini (SA) 72 73 70 71; S Y Noh (S Kor) 72 70 73 71; Z Johnson 71 69 72 74; J Senden (Aus) 70 72 72 72; H Frazar 72 73 68 73; D H Kim (S Kor) 73 71 70 72; G Havret (Fr) 77 69 71 69;
287 S H Kang (S Kor) 74 72 70 71; M Kaymer (Ger) 74 70 72 71; A Hadwin (Can) 75 71 73 68;
288 R Henley 73 69 71 75; L Glover 76 69 73 70; Sa M Bae (S Kor) 75 71 75 67;
289 R Karlsson (Swe) 79 67 71 72; C Hoffman 71 74 75 69; M Putnam 74 71 73 71; L Donald (Eng) 74 72 74 69; P Harr'gton (Ire) 71 73 72 73; C Reavie 70 75 72 72;
290 A Noren (Swe) 75 67 74 74; M Leishman (Aus) 73 69 72 76; S Piercy 73 71 76 70;
291 P Mickelson 74 69 77 71; A Kim 74 72 75 70; J J Henry 72 73 76 70; M Manassero (It) 74 72 73 72; A Quiros (Sp) 70 71 72 78; E Molinari (It) 74 70 74 73;
292 J Hicks 74 71 76 71; M Siem (Ger) 79 66 74 73; T Hamilton 73 72 77 70;
293 B Cauley 71 72 74 76; J Overton 72 72 74 75; B Gay 73 71 74 75; B Watson 71 75 74 73;
295 K Streelman 73 73 74 75; 296 K Kuboya (Japan) 73 73 74 76; 297 A Rocha (Br) 69 76 76 76; C Greyling (SA) 72 74 75 76; 303 W Heffernan (Can) 75 71 79 78;
305 B Benjamin 72 73 80 80.
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