The Open 2014: Masterful Rory McIlroy triumphs at Royal Liverpool to win his third major
Northern Irishman sees off Garcia and Fowler by two shots
This was far more exciting than it needed to be. The margin of victory only two in the end but that didn’t matter when Rose McIlroy walked on to the 18th green to smother the victor in motherly love. And what a boy she has.
The imperishable wreath that is the Open Championship hangs around Rory McIlroy’s neck, a three-time major champion at 25 after a final round of 71 took him to 17 under par. Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won more at the same age, which tells you where McIlroy is heading in the pantheon of golfing greats.
The threat early on came not from McIlroy’s partner in the final group, Rickie Fowler, but Sergio Garcia. When the Spaniard was really flying, there was no telling how this might end. Big leads have gone before. Ernie Els came from six back to win in 2012, Phil Mickelson from five behind last year. We can only imagine how loud McIlroy’s inner voice was chanting those key words to keep it all together.
But keep it together he did, a birdie at the 16th affording him a three-shot cushion on the 18th tee. He found the sand with his second but splashed to 10 feet and from there his name was on the Claret Jug. The tap-in for par released the habitual fist pump and Hoylake had maintained its tradition of producing high-end champions. McIlroy joins Tiger Woods, Peter Thompson, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and J H Taylor on the Royal Liverpool honour’s board. Not a bad roll call to be a part of.
“This is the one we all want, the one we strive for,” McIlroy said in receipt of the oldest pot in golf. Looking on, Garcia, 34, saw history slip through his hands a fifth time. He must wonder if he is ever going to cross the line. Only Lee Westwood has contested more majors without success – 65 plays 63. At the same age as McIlroy, Fowler has time on his side. He thrives in this setting and, like Garcia, played a full part for his share of second, the pair two clear of Jim Furyk.
With an overnight lead of six, McIlroy was calmness itself negotiating the pre-round rituals. The cameras were on him the moment his black Range Rover pulled into the car park. Well-wishers clapped him through to the clubhouse and out the other side, where the putting- green dwellers received him in much the same manner.
Then over to the range to loosen the shoulders. Like a student on the morning of an exam, there is nothing more to learn at this stage, just a matter of staying on point, free of distraction. Fowler was the first to make his way across to the bridge leading to the first tee, his orange cap visible above the crowds.
As McIlroy followed him he would have heard the cheers echoing around the park, golfers everywhere sinking birdies. Robert Karlsson made up four shots in five holes, Adam Scott three over the same stretch.
The problem was they were too far back to shiver McIlroy’s timbers, especially after he rolled in a birdie at the first to reach 17 under and establish a seven-shot gap.
The first hint of drama came at the par-5 fifth, McIlroy’s second nestling against the grandstand requiring a free drop. The ball nestled deep in the circle of straw and took a flier coming out, scooting across the green and down into the gaping swale. The chip came up 12 feet short producing a first bogey of the day at a hole that had yielded birdies in each of the preceding three rounds.
The lead to Garcia, who opened with three birdies in five holes in the group ahead was down to four. A missed green at the par-3 sixth left an awkward chip and a six-footer for par. His rivals glimpsed an opening. Fowler rattled in a par putt from 15 feet to heap the pressure on and McIlroy’s effort duly slipped by. Two shots gone in as many holes and the lead at the start of the day halved, demonstrating how difficult it is to defend a winning position at a major once a negative spiral is engaged.
Garcia and Fowler stand with their awards for joint second A birdie at nine stilled his beating heart, but not for long. On the tenth Garcia was holing out for an eagle to stand just two shots in arrears. To his credit McIlroy responded like a champion, finding the tenth green in two and putting for an eagle of his own. His ball reared up just inches short and he was in for birdie. The lead was back to three, but the tension showed no sign of easing.
The dynamic was helped no end by the sequencing, which required McIlroy to respond from the tee to the magic Garcia was weaving on the greens. That said, Garcia was grateful for the grandstand at the 12th, which diverted his errant approach back towards the putting surface.
Had he not hit the bleachers, it would have been goodnight from him. As it was he saved par to send another massive cheer echoing back down the fairway, where McIlroy was standing over his ball waiting to play. McIlroy responded with a laser on to the middle of the dance floor.
As he edged ever closer towards the target it was a matter of ticking off the holes. He was inches short with his birdie putt at 12. Tick. An awful swing at the par-3 13th cost him his third bogey of the round. Cross. Could Garcia, now two behind again, make the most of the donation? Perhaps the nerves were getting to him. He was short of the green with his approach to 14, and in the sand at 15th green tight against the wall. McIlroy was watching from the tee when Garcia left his ball in there.
The resultant bogey was another huge tick in his favour. He knew then he was on his way.
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