Sergio Garcia made it exciting for a minute, but Rory McIlroy's triumph was inevitable. McIlroy finished the Open Championship 17-under Sunday, completing the destiny his father set forth a decade ago and putting himself one step away from the career Grand Slam.
BBC Sport captured his comments after the win:
His one-under-par 71 in the fourth round gave him a two-stroke advantage over Rickie Fowler and Garcia, the latter of whom gave the 25-year-old Northern Irishman his only real threat. Garcia was within two strokes after a sensational eagle on the par-five 10th, but his momentum slowed down the stretch while McIlroy overcame his past shortcomings to hold steady.
The win is McIlroy's third major, having previously won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship. He will enter next year's Masters with the chance to become just the fifth player in the modern era to win each of golf's four major tournaments. He has never finished higher than a tie for eighth at Augusta.
"I'd be in pretty illustrious company," McIlroy told reporters Saturday. "... I never thought that I'd be able to be in this position. I didn't think that I'd even have a chance at 25 to go for three legs of the Grand Slam."
If this week proved anything, though, it's that no one can touch McIlroy when he's at the top of his game. He opened the fourth round with a six-stroke lead over playing partner Fowler, kept the entire field (minus Garcia) at an arm's length all day and held his nerves despite some balky play in spots.
After three consecutive rounds in the 60s, McIlroy's driver and putter betrayed him on a day when most top-flight players were going low. He bogeyed his first par five on a back-to-back bogey stretch on No. 5 and No. 6, and struggled to keep his tee shots in the fairway. He regained his composure with a birdie-birdie run on the ninth and 10th holes, but his fourth round saw him merely hold on to keep the massive lead he had built the first three days.
For McIlroy, the ecstasy of kissing the Claret Jug assuaged any disappointment he might have felt.
Winning at Royal Liverpool gets what had been an ever-growing demon off his back. He had finished better than 25th just once in his entire Open Championship career coming into this week, making it by far his worst major. Last year, McIlroy missed the cut in a frustrating flameout that was a microcosm of his entire 2013 season.
Expected to ascend to golf's mountaintop following his 2012 win at the PGA, McIlroy has instead scuffled every step of the way. This is his first PGA Tour win in more than 22 months. Although he had shown signs of rapidly improving play—a brilliant comeback win in the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship being chief among them—he was still engendering considerable concern.
When McIlroy came out to a six-under 66 on Thursday, some feared Merseyside was about to witness another Friday collapse. Instead, it was Tiger Woods who turned in a McIlroy-esque mess of a round while the heir to his throne kept ascending. Bomani Jones of ESPN noted the dichotomy:
tiger put rory on the cover of his own video game and #nwts.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) July 20, 2014
McIlroy is the seventh wire-to-wire winner in Open Championship history. He is the first since Woods in 2005 and the second in the last 40-plus years. Other wire-to-wire winners include legends Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen.
Justin Ray of Golf Channel noted that he made history with his second wire-to-wire win:
Rory McIlroy is the youngest player in golf history to win multiple majors wire-to-wire with no ties.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 20, 2014
"I'm very comfortable in this position," McIlroy told reporters of leading earlier this week. "It's a combination of confidence and being mentally strong. It's just a state of mind where you think clearly."
Garcia is still looking for his first major win a decade-and-a-half after his coming-out party at the 1999 PGA Championship, and he played well enough to win Sunday. His only miscue was a bogey on the par-three 15th, as he had to twice hit his ball out of a greenside bunker. Otherwise, his round was impeccable, complete with masterful putts and pinpoint approaches.
Chris Jones of Esquire shared his joy in watching McIlroy play:
I don't have a lot of rooting interests in sports, but Sergio Garcia is one of them. Love everything about him.— Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) July 20, 2014
When the Spaniard thinks back on this tournament, he'll remember McIlroy's brilliance being the only thing in his way. It's likely a feeling similar to when Woods used to hold him off all those years back. ESPN Stats & Info referred to Garcia's penchant for near-misses:
Sergio Garcia has 9 career Top 5 finishes in majors, 2nd-most among all players without a win since 1997 (Lee Westwood, 10).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 20, 2014
Fowler, also looking for his first major, had another solid day of his own. He outplayed McIlroy almost the entire day en route to a five-under 67, but he wasn't able to go low enough to make a legitimate run at the lead. ESPN's Chris Fowler was rooting for the Fowler-Fowler connection:
If it can't be Rickie, then Go On, Rory.— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) July 20, 2014
McIlroy's win also proves a nice belated Father's Day present. Earlier this week, BBC's Andrew Cotter confirmed that McIlroy's father, Gerry, and three friends bet 400 pounds on Rory to win the Open Championship before he turned 26. With the odds set at 500-1, Gerry McIlroy and his friends are set to rake in 200,000 pounds (close to $342,000).
Of course, that pales in comparison to Rory McIlroy's winner's purse, and Gerry's pride at the moment is probably worth much more than some extra spending money.
And it's far from the last time betting on McIlroy will work out for someone. At age 25, he's one of the youngest players in history to have three majors on his resume. Kevin Negandhi of ESPN mentioned how McIlroy is joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger:
Rory McIlroy can become the 3rd-youngest player in Masters era at the time of his 3rd major win. Only Jack (23) and Tiger (24) were younger.— Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN) July 20, 2014
He's also entering the prime of his career, a period in which the all-time greats begin to separate themselves from the pack. Nine of Woods' majors came after his 25th birthday. Fifteen of Nicklaus' were late-career triumphs. It's impossible to tell whether McIlroy will join those luminaries, but it's clear there is a chasm between himself and the rest of the field.
McIlroy has always had the game to back up his considerable hype. Now older and wiser, he might finally have the mental wherewithal too.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.