By Brian Keogh
With the flair of a young Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy became the youngest winner of a European Tour card thanks to his stunning third place finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
The Holywood ace bounced back from a disastrous double bogey at the par-five 14th with birdies at the 15th, 17th and 18th for a 68 that secured solo third place on 15 under par.
Thrilled with his achievement, McIlroy said: "It's a pretty nice feeling. At the start of the week, I knew that I had to do something pretty special to try and get my Tour card. Overall I'm absolutely ecstatic.
"There have been a lot of great players come into the game pretty young, obviously Tiger, Sergio and Adam Scott and I'm trying to take it all in my stride.
"When I talked about my chances of making the card this week to Lee Westwood, he told me I could win the tournament.
"When someone like Lee tells you that it gives you a lot of confidence. Hopefully this is a huge step for bigger and better things."
McIlroy arrived in Scotland lying 264th in the money list after earning €15,178 for 42nd place in the Quinn Direct British Masters two weeks ago.
But after a brilliant third round 67 at Kingsbarns he was tied for ninth entering the final round, prompting his parents to grab a last minute flight to Scotland.
At the famed 18th, McIlroy was hugged by his mother and father and back-slapped by dozens of well-wisher from his home club.
Mum Rosie said: "Well done, son" as proud dad Gerry looked on.
Gerry explained: "Rory had asked me if I was coming to the event but I said I would only come over if you are in the top-10 after three rounds, so Rosie and I came over on Saturday night.
"It's just fantastic what he's managed to achieved and I think it was good for him to see some of his family here. The noise out there was unbelievable with everybody screaming."
McIlroy went to the turn in 33 after mixing a bogey at the par five fifth with birdies at the third, sixth, eighth and ninth.
He birdied the 10th to move to 15 under par but wobbled with a bogey at the 12th before being forced to drain a 15 footer for par at the 13th.
A drive out of bounds at the 14th cost him a double bogey seven but he bounced back in style with a birdie at the 15th before rifling stunning approaches to five feet and two feet at the last two holes.
McIlroy said "I've been hitting my irons really well all week and a couple of the flags, 15, 16, 17, are flags you don't usually go at, but I felt confident if I could just get the club on the back of the ball it was going to be pretty close.
"Anyway, I did that, and I was very unlucky to not make birdie at 16. I wasn't thinking about my card early on. When I went to 15 under after the 10th, I thought, try and hang on a bit.
"Then I bogeyed 12 and doubled 14 which wasn't so good but I came back really well. St Andrews is always a course I've played well at."
But he faced a nervous wait to see if he would earn enough to avoid a trip to next month's Qualifying School finals .
Scot Paul Lawrie bogeyed the 17th and then missed a 20 footer for birdie on the last to ensure that he took third on his own and earned a whopping €211,321 and his European Tour card for next season
England's Nick Dougherty ended his two years winless spell after a closing 71 gave him a two-shot victory over compatriot Justin Rose on 18 under par.
But McIlroy was floating on air after stunning birdies at the 17th and 18th catapulted him 154 places to 110th in the money list with earnings of €226,449 and to eighth place on the European Ryder Cup points list.
Padraig Harrington saw his lead at the top of the Order of Merit trimmed to just €31,407 as nearest rival Rose clinched solo second place thanks to a 69.
The Dubliner, 36, went into the final round just four shots off the pace but failed to hole the putts in his first appearance on European soil since his Open triumph.
A double bogey six at the 10th, where he lost a ball off the tee, cost him dear and he could only pick up one more stroke in a final rounds 73 that left him six behind winner Dougherty on 12 under.
After taking 32 putts, Harrington said: "It's been great and I've enjoyed it a lot as always, but today I would have live d to have been a little more focussed on my putting.
"That was the story of today's round really - on the greens. But to go back to Carnoustie at the start of the week was really special for me and to get four more competitive rounds behind me this week will stand me in good stead for next week's World Match Play at Wentworth."
Paul McGinley (71) and Gary Murphy (69) finished tied for 23rd on nine under par with Graeme McDowell slipping to 36th after a disappointing 73.
Darren Clarke missed the 54-hole cut.