McIlroy moves up another level with Open win: "I’m immensely proud of myself"

McIlroy moves up another level with Open win: "I’m immensely proud of myself"

It was a Boy’s Own story — and the ultimate dream for a Manchester United fan — a career defining victory on Liverpool territory. 

Not only that, Rory McIlroy’s closing 71 for a two-stroke, wire-to-wire Open Championship victory over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia on 17 under par was the 100th win for Irish golf since the European Tour was founded in 1972.

"Even as a Manchester United fan..." he started in his speech, trying to thanks the Liverpudlian support. He was booed for the only poor decision he made all day.

After 18 months of turmoil on and off the golf course, McIlroy finally found some peace when he left himself three putts to win the Claret Jug from just 12 feet and gratefully took just two to condemn Garcia to his fourth runner-up finish in a major and Fowler to his second in a row.

Leading by six shots overnight, his win might have lacked some of the drama of his eight shot victories in the 2011 US Open and the 2012 US PGA. But only a little. This was a grind for a player who has often struggled to do the job the dirty way. It wasn't winning ugly because he played so many stellar shots. But from a mental point of view, it was payback for St Andrews in 2010, the Masters he let slip in 2011...

If the "brain dead" episodes at Muirfield were the nadir of his career, this was the zenith.

Having held off a  final round charge from Garcia, who got to within two shots of him twice on the back nine, it was the sweetest of sweet victories and a huge boost for the game that is crying out for a figurehead with Tiger Woods, we can whisper it now, no longer the player he was.

Not only did McIlroy produce a display of cool and cunning to join immortals Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as one of just three players to win three legs of the career Grand Slam by the age of 25, he did it with style to move to world No 2 and to the top of the Race to Dubai.

He also earned his dad Gerry (and three of his pals) £50,000 each as part of a 10-year old bet they made with to a local bookie on young "Rors" winning The Open win by the age of 25.

Glancing at the glittering Claret Jug next to him, McIlroy said: “I’m immensely proud of myself. To sit here at 25 years of age and win my third Major Championship and be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly. 

“Being from around here, The Open Championship was the one you really wanted growing up, and the one you holed so many putts on the putting green to win, to beat Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, whatever. 

“I didn't quite need to hole a putt today to do it, just a little tap-in, which was nice. The more I keep looking at this trophy and seeing my name on it, the more it will starting sinking in. It feels absolutely incredible.”

It looked all over when McIlroy birdied the first from 18 feet to go seven shot clear.

But he then bogeyed the par-five fifth and the short sixth to see his lead cut to three shots over the Spaniard, who birdied three of the first five.

As the news filtered through that his ex-fiancée Caroline Wozniacki won for the first time this year in Istanbul, McIlroy revived.

First he saved a great par from sand at the tough seventh and then drained a 15 footer for a birdie two at the ninth to head down the stretch four shots clear on 16 under par.

When Garcia made an eagle three from eight feet at the 10th to cut the gap to just two, there was just the faintest possibility of an upset.

But McIlroy responded to each Garcia punch with a blow of his own — just as he did on Friday and again on Saturday, when he eagled two of his last three holes to streak six clear of the field.

Two putts from 30 feet gave him a birdie at the 10th to restore his three shot lead and while he pulled his tee shot into the rough at the short 13th and bogeyed to lead by just two again, he wasn't to be denied.

Garcia found a greenside bunker at the short 15th and failed to get out with his first attempt, dropping a crucial stroke.

The bogey dashed his chances of victory and while he would birdie the par-five 16th to get to within two again, McIlroy ignored a burly heckler in red and blasted a 370-yard drive down the same hole moments later to set up an easy birdie.

“He was giving me grief all day, actually,” McIlroy said after pointing him out to marshals, who had him ejected by police. “I sort of put it up for the first 15 holes, and then he deliberately coughed on my downswing on the 16th tee. 

“I still hit a great drive. But I heard it halfway down and I knew who it was. So I turned around and got him chucked out, thankfully.”

It was Tigeresque stuff and a watching Graeme McDowell, who eagled the 18th for a 67 to tie for ninth with Shane Lowry on 10 under, could only smile.

“Tiger could win ugly but Rory gets it done from the fairway, 370 yards down the middle of it,” McDowell said as he watched on a monitor. “The third leg of the Grand Slam at 25 years old, it's pretty good. I’m proud of him.”

Garcia finished par-birdie for a 66 to set the clubhouse target at 13 under but McIlroy, leading by two with two to go, chipped dead to save par at the 17th and then played for safety off the 18th tee.

A two-iron tee shot followed by a 273-yard two-iron into the greenside trap left him a straightforward recovery shot that skipped just past the pin.

He could see his mother Rosie crying at greenside as he lagged it the hole side and tapped in for a par five and victory before hurling his ball into the crowd in ecstasy.

It was another disappointment for Fowler, who shot 66 became the first player to shoot four rounds in 60s in an Open since Ernie Els in 2004 and fail to win.

But for McIlroy, it’s a win that confirms that he’s back in love with the game again after 18 months of horrors.

Having joined Nicklaus and Woods as the winner of three legs of the Grand Slam by the age of 25, he is now trying to join Ben Hogan, Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Woods in the Grand Slam club.

Asked if he had the desire and will to dominate now, Rory said: “I definitely hope so. I’ve really found my passion again for golf. 

“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.”

Thinking of Augusta green, he said: “Even though there's still one major left this year that I want to desperately try and win, I looking forward to next April and trying to complete the career Grand Slam.”