“Celtic Tiger” Rory McIlroy roared to an incredible eight-shot US Open victory last night to give American golf the hero it badly needs.
The 22-year old Holywood idol brushed aside all doubts about his ability to close when fired a two under 69 to decimate the field with an amazing 16 under par total and smash the US Open scoring record of 272 held by the likes of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
It was a cool, calculated performance by the greatest talent to emerge in the game since Woods and McIlroy, who broke multiple scoring records in Bethesda and jumped from eighth to world No 4, immediately set his sights on becoming a multiple major champion.
“Just to sit here, knowing that I’ve just won that trophy and following in the footsteps of one of my best friends, Graeme McDowell, last year at Pebble, you know, it’s a great feeling,” McIlroy said. “And I got my first Major Championship out of the way quite early on in my career, especially after what’s happened the last couple of months.
“It feels great. And just looking forward to putting myself in the picture for hopefully many more.”
The hype surrounding McIlroy will increase to unprecedented levels over the coming months as the game looks to him to fill the void left by Woods over the past 18 months.
And instead of Woods, Padraig Harrington reckons McIlroy has the talent and enough time to go on and beat Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins.
The Golden Bear himself confessed last night that he is a huge fan of McIlroy’s, explaining: “I love his golf swing and I love his moxie and the way he walks like he is a little cocksure about himself. I think this kid is going to have a great career. I don’t think there is any question about it.
“He’s got all the components and a lot of people rooting for him. He’s a nice kid, he’s humble when he needs to be humble and he’s confident when he need to be confident.”
Told that McIlroy was four months younger than he was when he won his first major, Nicklaus laughed and said: “Well, he’s ahead of my major pace.”
McIlroy’s win gave Northern Ireland back to back US Open wins with the defending champion Graeme McDowell confessing: “The probability of two players from Northern Ireland winning back to back US Opens is lottery numbers or bigger than that. It’s just incredible.
“He’s an awesome player. He’s the best player I have ever seen. I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger in his pomp but he’s the best I’ve ever seen, simple as that.”
It was a triumphal march from the moment he shook off his first tee jitters with a perfect three-wood down the middle, beamed a huge smile at manager Chubby Chandler and took his first steps towards a place in the history books with an opening birdie that ended the championship as a contest.
After flicking a wedge to just seven feet, the Irish prodigy stroked home the putt to go nine shots clear and set up Ireland’s fifth major win from the last 16 big ones.
He got a massive roar from US fans as the putt dropped and is clearly what world and American golf has been crying out for since Woods, out injured, fell from grace and lost his game.
Even McIlroy’s new putting coach, two time major winner Dave Stockton, believes that the Ulsterman is now an all-American hero.
Stockton said: “He is what golf totally needs. He will be the sixth non-US winner in the last eight years and I’ve got to tell you that the American people love him so much that they are not going to care.”
McIlroy is also only the seventh wire-to-wire US Open winner in history and the first since Woods did it for the second time at Bethpage in New York in 2009.
And with Woods out injured with knee and Achilles’ problems, McIlroy looks set to fill the power vacuum and hoover up the majors.
Harrington certainly believes that McIlroy could turn out to be the man who eventually breaks the Golden Bear’s major records.
Harrington said: “If you are going to talk about someone challenging Jack’s record, there’s your man.”
The Dubliner closed with a two over 73 to finish well off the pace five over par but confessed he was impressed by McIlroy’s incredible performance.
Harrington said: “It’s really been a very easy-going lapping of the field. I think this is what makes a difference: There might be people capable of winning a major, but there’s not too many people capable of dominating and running away from the field in a major.”
McDowell hit a 69 to finish on two under par and conclude a stout title defence and hand the title to his best pal.
Before his final round, McDowell said: “He’s potentially the next Tiger Woods. He’s that good. It’s great to see him out there fulfilling his potential.
“Will he achieve what Tiger was doing around 2000, 15 major championships to date or whatever he’s got? Can he be that good? Yeah, potentially. He’s got that potential. He’s got the full package as far as his golf game is concerned – if his putter behaves itself.
“Tiger was something very special. He had it all, the mental capacity, the short game, the putter. If Rory can add a couple of weapons to his arsenal, yeah, he can be as good.”
McIlroy showed Woods-like skills as followed his birdie at the first with another from just three feet at the fourth to open up a 10 shot lead.
Playing partner YE Yang birdied the sixth and ninth to cut McIlroy lead to eight shots as they headed down the back nine.
But there would be no repeat of the 10th hole triple bogey disaster that struck McIlroy down in the Masters 70 days earlier.
The Irish hero fired a seven iron right over the pin at the 214-yard par three and almost holed in one as it rolled back towards a pin cut in a bowl and stopping just six inches short.
It put him at 17 under par - the lowest score to par in the history of either the US Open or the US PGA - and gave his dad Gerry a perfect Father’s Day present.
The pair shared breakfast every day and McIlroy revealed: “We’ve talked about how I have been feeling.
“So it’s just been good to have him here, as he’s always been so positive and it’s nice to have those reassuring words in your ears.”
McIlroy made his first bogey of the day at the 12th where he was bunkered off the tee and failed to reach the green.
It cut his lead to eight shots over Yang but there was only going to be one winner.
Yang bogeyed the 11th and 15th to drop back to seven under alongside McIlroy and leave him nine clear with three to play.
And while the Ulsterman followed a birdie at the 16th with his first three-putt of the week at the 17th, he closed with a par four at the last where he almost holed an outlandish putt from the apron.
Yang bogeyed the 15th and 18th to slip into a share of third place with Kevin Chappell, Robert Garrigus and Lee Westwood.
Australia’s Jason Day finished alone in second on eight under par after weekend rounds of 65 and 68 to claim his second successive runner up spot in a major following his breakthrough performance at Augusta National.