Young monarch Rory McIlroy seizes US PGA crown from the front
Poulter's last-round challenge inspires the Ulsterman to clinch first UK triumph since 1930
Monday 13 August 2012
Rory McIlroy wore red yesterday and channelled Tiger Woods circa 2000 to win the 94th US PGA Championship by eight shots with a score of 13 under par. His final round of 66 was a stunning encore to his maiden eight-shot major victory at the US Open last year.
Sport has just witnessed another jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, shot-making, wedge-zipping, history-making performance from the Holywood hero.
"It was a great round of golf," McIlroy said. "I just wanted to play solid but got off to a bit of a shaky start. From there I settled into it and I thought my putting was phenomenal. It's been an incredible week."
McIlroy is the first Northern Irishman to kiss the enormous silver Wanamaker Trophy and the first player from the UK to win the US PGA Championship since Edinburgh's Tommy Armour won as an American citizen in 1930.
Aged 23 years and 100 days, McIlroy usurps Woods in 1999 as the youngest ever champion and is also the youngest to claim his first two majors since Seve Ballesteros won the Masters in 1980. Since The European Tour's first season in 1972, McIlroy joins Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle as the third player from the UK to win multiple majors. Exalted company, indeed.
McIlroy was writing his own history. The player leading after 54 holes has failed to win 11 of the last 14 majors and not one of them was this year. Until now. And this was the era of 16 different champions in the last 16 majors. Strike that record, too.
It was never in doubt once McIlroy reached the back nine with his three-shot lead from the third round intact. But it wasn't without its hiccups. He strayed off line from the ninth tee, and left himself a Phil Mickelson-style parachute fop shot across a cavernous hollow on the edge of the green. He zipped it to five feet from the hole. Genius.
He followed the putt into the hole with his first air punch of the day. He knew the significance of saving par. He played another "get out of jail free" card at the 10th after hooking his tee shot on to a sandy path. He hacked into a greenside bunker and almost holed out for a birdie.
Ian Poulter did his best to put up a fight. He birdied the first five holes, draining a total of 60 feet of putts. He sped from one under par to six under par to get McIlroy's attention.
But rather than intimidate McIlroy, it seemed to inspire him. Among all the birdies, it was those two sensational par saves at the ninth and 10th that demonstrated he had no intention of recreating his Masters meltdown from last year or of matching Adam Scott's final four-holes implosion at the Open last month.
After his Sunday morning lie-in was rudely awakened by a dawn chorus alarm call, McIlroy tapped in for his par to finish his storm-delayed third round at seven under par. As he strolled off the 18th green, he spotted his father, Gerry. There was no hug. No smile. No words between them. Just a quick handshake and a knowing look. Maybe they knew that all those predicting an easy victory were right. Or maybe they realized the difficulty of the task ahead. Or maybe they were just both still half-asleep. McIlroy slipped off for a snooze before the final round. How's that for cool?
The Olympics showed, once again, that no lead is big enough, unless your name is Usian Bolt or McIlroy, and that the only lead you need is one one-hundredth of a second. The only guarantee is that there will be tears of joy and despair – by athletes and spectators alike.
Thirty thousand golf fans trooped through the gates of the Ocean Course each day here via the only road in an out of Kiawah Island. The nearest city, Charleston, is 45 minutes away. The journey time for many was up to two hours. And still they came. And when they got here, they endured monsoon downpours, end of the world thunderstorms and got eaten alive by mosquitos but not, thankfully, by the alligators.
Sports fans will go to extraordinary lengths to support their heroes. Yesterday they cheered McIlroy all the way along his back-nine coronation. They applauded Woods, too, who reverted to missing putts and thrashing drivers into the wilderness to finish at two under. They clapped the underdogs too, like Stoke's world No 98 David Lynn, who probably surprised even himself by finishing runner-up at five under ahead of Poulter, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley and Carl Pettersson, all on four under.
It's not about trophies or the medals table; it's about the love of sport. Whether it's Bolt or Mo Farah in the Olympic Stadium in London, or McIlroy at the end of a one-lane track in South Carolina, the message is the same. Like the voice said in Field of Dreams: "Build it, and he will come."
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