Fairway to heaven.
Rory McIlroy choked back tears of joy as he produced not one but TWO perfect shots to seal a Dublin Duty Free Irish Open victory for the ages and ONE MILLION EURO for charity.
One behind Scottish warrior Russell Knox with just three holes to go, it looked like a soggy event would end up as a damp squib in front of 25,270 fans at The K Club.
Instead, McIlroy hit a heart-stopping, career three wood into the heart of the 16th that set up a birdie that changed the destiny of the title and raised a roar that could be heard from The K Club to Cahirciveen.
As Knox three putted under pressure to go from one ahead to one behind, McIlroy then hit a Roy of the Rovers style five wood to 30 inches at the 18th to set up a tap in eagle three.
In the space of half an hour he went from zero to hero, carding a three under par 69 to win his first Irish Open by three shots from Knox and Welshman Bradley Dredge on nine under par. If Carlsberg are doing any ads about Irish Open climaxes, this one is the template.
Rating the win as high as a World Golf Championship, an emotional McIlroy said: “I don’t normally cry over victories but I was trying to hold back the tears on the 18th green, just looking up and seeing all my friends and family and the support I have had this week.
“To win in front of them — I don’t get a chance to play in front of my him fans that often - to play like that and finish like that today, I will never forget it.”
The Holywood ace, 27, almost felt like quitting the Irish Open a few years ago he was so unmotivated by the event.
But by hitching his Rory Foundation to the tournament, he has suddenly found a reason to love the Irish Open.
By donating his €666,660 top prize to his Rory Foundation, he reckoned the charitable fund he set up will have raised more than €1 million during the week.
McIlroy said: “I had a little bit of time on the green when Russell and Danny were finishing out, and I was trying to hold back the tears then.
“I don't usually get emotional about golf or about wins, but this one, it means just a little bit more, because it's not just for myself. It's for a lot of other people. It's a day I'll not forget for a while.”
McIlroy will never forget the back nine either, nor the horrific weather that forced him to get up at 5.30am to complete his third round.
Three pars on the final three holes gave him a three-shot lead over Masters champion Danny Willett on nine under par with Knox tied for third, four off the pace with South African Richard Sterne.
In the end, Willett had a nightmare in the afternoon, crashing to a 77 that left him 11 behind in a share of 23rd.
It was US based Knox who turned out to be the big threat with his eagle at the fourth and birdie at the fifth getting him within two of McIlroy.
The Uisterman’s lead was down to two when he bogeyed the sixth.
And When Knox birdied the short eighth from 12 feet, the gap was down to one as the heavens opened and hailstones forced a one hour stoppage.
McIlroy came back out and escaped brilliantly from trees to birdie the 10th from 18 feet and go two ahead again.
But a three putt bogey at the 11th, where he lipped out from less than three feet, gave Knox encouragement.
Relieved it wasn’t a costly mistake. McIlroy said: "Those are the little things I've been talking about, little mental lapses that I need to just sort of get rid of still. But thankfully today, it didn't cost me.”
Knox suddenly moved up a gear with birdies from 12 feet at the 14th and eight feet at the 15th — two of the toughest holes on the course — putting him one clear.
But great champions do great things under pressure and McIlroy responded with sheer brilliance by pulling off two of the greatest shots seen in a European Tour event at the 570-yard 16th and 537-yard 18th.
He said: “I knew I was going to have to do something on the last three holes. And I sort of had it in the back of my mind that my length might be an advantage.
“I never really planned to go for the green in two off the back tee on 16, but after that tee shot, I really didn't have any option.”
After a long wait of the green after Willett and Knox had laid up, McIlroy stood up and ripped a three wood into the heart of the green, setting up a two putt birdie from 30 feet.
He said: “I only had 238 yards to the front, 273 to the pin. Pin is on 35. It was just a perfect 3-wood. It was slightly into the wind. I knew if I really flushed it, I would be able to get it pin-high.
“But if I just hit a good one, solid shot, it was going to end up where it did.
“So just one of those shots, you pick your target, you make a good, full, committed swing at it, and thankfully it worked out for me.
He added: “It was incredible. The ovation I got when the ball landed on the 16th green sent shivers down my spine.”
It affected his playing partners too.
Knox three putted for bogey and McIlroy was one ahead with two to go, then lipped out from eight feet at the 17th,
The door was ajar but McIlroy slammed it shut with authority by ripping a 256- yard five wood to 30 inches to set up an easy eagle three.
Rory said: “To win The Irish Open, to win your National Open, you don’t get many opportunities to do it. I knew I needed to take this chance and I'm just glad I came up with the right shot at the right time.”
He rated the three wood to the 16th as a better shot, on a par with the eagle that put him on the road to victory in the 2014 US PGA.
He said: “It’s right up there. I go back to the 3-wood at Valhalla when I was three behind, but the shot on 16 today was a much better golf shot than that 3-wood.
“It was exactly what I wanted to do, just hit it on the middle of the green. It's a thin target. It's got to stand up there. I hit it straight at the TV tower and made a full, committed swing, and it worked out for me.
“In terms of shots under pressure when I needed to pull something off like that, it's right up there. It's right up there with the best that I've hit.”
It was a win that ended a six-month drought for McIlroy, dating to last November’s DP World Tour Championship and sets up a summer that could bring another major win.
It was also the fifth Irish win since the event was revived by the European Tour in 1975 following in the footsteps of Christy O’Connor Jnr (1975), John O’Leary (1982), Padraig Harrington (2007) and Shane Lowry (2009).
Harrington said that winning the Irish Open in 2007 was the catalyst for the three major wins that came in the next 13 months. A similar run by McIlroy would put him among the all time great of the game, if he is not there already