British Open: Rory McIlroy dominates for his first claret jug


HOYLAKE, England — Walking off the 18th green as the British Open champion, Rory McIlroy kept gazing at all the greats on golf’s oldest trophy.

On the claret jug, his name is etched in silver below Phil Mickelson.

In the record book, he is listed behind Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the youngest to get three legs of the career Grand Slam.

And over four days at Royal Liverpool, he had no equal.

“I’m immensely proud of myself,” McIlroy said after his two-shot victory Sunday that was never really in doubt. “To sit here, 25 years of age, and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam … yeah, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly.”

He had to work a little harder than he wanted for this one.

Staked to a six-shot lead going into the final round, McIlroy turned back every challenge. He made two key birdies around the turn, and delivered a majestic drive at just the right moment to close with a 1-under 71 and complete his wire-to-wire victory.

In another major lacking tension over the final hour, what brought The Open to life was the potential of its champion.

After nearly two years of turmoil, McIlroy looked like the kid who shattered scoring records to win the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, and who won the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by a record eight shots a year later.

Boy Wonder is back. Or maybe he’s just getting started again.

McIlroy won by two shots over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler to become the first start-to-finish winner since Woods at St. Andrews in 2005. Even with one major left this year, the Northern Irishman already is looking ahead to Augusta National next April for a shot at the slam.

“I’ve really found my passion again for golf,” McIlroy said. “Not that it ever dwindled, but it’s what I think about when I get up in the morning. It’s what I think about when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be. And I know if I can do that, then trophies like this are within my capability.”

McIlroy put an end to this major with a powerful drive down the fairway at the par-5 16th, setting up a two-putt birdie to restore his lead to three shots. He finished with two pars, tapping in for par on the 18th green.

The hard part was trying not to cry when his mother, Rosie, came onto the green with tears streaming down her face. She was not at the other two majors. Before leaving, McIlroy turned and applauded the fans in the horseshoe arena who were witness to another masterpiece.

This could have been another romp except for a shaky stretch early for McIlroy, and solid efforts from Garcia and Fowler.

Garcia pulled within two shots with four holes to play until he put his tee shot in a pot bunker just right of the 15th green. His first shot failed to get over the 4-foot sodden wall and rolled back into the sand. He made bogey, and two birdies over the final three holes were not enough. Garcia shot 66 and was runner-up in a major for the fourth time.

“I think that we gave it a good effort,” Garcia said. “And there was someone a little bit better.”

Fowler, playing in the final group for the second straight major, didn’t do anything wrong. He just didn’t do enough right to make up a six-shot deficit. Fowler played without a bogey, made three birdies on the last four holes and shot 67.

“He played awesome,” Fowler said. “And it was just kind of fun to throw a few shots at him coming. To see him win was pretty cool.”

BRITISH OPEN

A brief look at the fourth round:

WINNER: Rory McIlroy won the claret jug for the first time with a 1-under 71 and 17-under 271 total.

RUNNERS-UP: Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler finished two shots behind. For Garcia, it was the fourth runner-up finish in a major without winning one. Fowler also tied for second behind Martin Kaymer at last month’s U.S. Open.

THREE-QUARTERS SLAM: At age 25, McIlroy picked up the third leg of a career Grand Slam, adding to the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship. He will go to the Masters next spring trying to become only the sixth player to win all four of golf’s biggest events.

SELECT COMPANY: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen are the only players to win a career Grand Slam. Nicklaus and Woods were the only ones to win as many as three when they were 25 or younger.

WHERE’S TIGER: Woods closed with a 3-over 75 for his worst 72-hole finish in a major. A 6-over 294 left him 69th place out of 72 players who made the cut. His previous worst were ties for 40th at last year’s PGA Championship and the 2012 Masters.

ALSO STRUGGLING: Among the three players who finished behind Woods was Kaymer, who romped to an eight-shot victory at Pinehurst. The German never got it going at Royal Liverpool, failing to break par in any round and closing with an ugly 79. He was 70th at 296.

WINNING BET: McIlroy wasn’t the only winner. British media reported that the winner’s father, Gerry McIlroy, and three of his friends a decade ago placed a combined bet of 400 pounds (now $680) on McIlroy winning the claret jug before he turned 26. The odds were 500-1, so the syndicate stands to collect 200,000 pounds, or about $340,000.

DEFENDING CHAMP: Phil Mickelson closed with his best round of the week, a 68 that left him tied for 23rd.

NOTEWORTHY: Fowler (69-69-68-67) became only the third player to shoot four rounds in the 60s and not win the Open. Ernie Els did it twice, at Royal Troon in 2004 and Royal St. George’s in 1993. Jesper Parnevik came up short at Turnberry in 1994.

QUOTEWORTHY: "To be three legs toward the career Grand Slam by 25 is a pretty good achievement. It’s not going to sink in for a while, but it feels incredible right now." — McIlroy.

By The Associated Press