Rory McIlroy learned from his past, so when a six-stroke lead dwindled to two on the final day of the 2014 British Open, he didn't panic. McIlroy finished with a score of 17-under to win his third major championship in wire-to-wire fashion.
Before his ascension in late 2011 and early 2012, McIlroy had become synonymous with final-round collapses. But you couldn't tell by watching on Sunday. When Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler were nipping at his heels, he kept steady with a solid round of 71 that proved to be enough.
Two early bogeys coupled with surges from Garcia and Fowler were a cause for concern. But then McIlroy birdied two around the turn and one more on 16 that seemingly iced the victory.
Here's how the final leaderboard shook out at Royal Liverpool Golf Club:
As you can tell just by looking at the top of the board, the Northern Irish star had his fair share of suitors coming down the stretch. Things were tight, with so many top golfers bringing their best on the final round and McIlroy failing to rattle off straight birdies like he did so well early on.
It didn't much matter after two rounds of 66 to open up the tournament that gave him a cushion that he didn't relinquish all weekend.
Despite his historic victory, his acceptance speech didn't go over well with the Liverpool supporters when McIlroy professed his Manchester United fanhood, per Bleacher Report:
McIlroy's best stuff is untouchable, and that was on perfect display throughout the final round. The golfers behind him that carded mid-60 rounds were practically all stars—Garcia, Fowler, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott and more. But their incredible finishes couldn't nearly catch up to the seismic advantage McIlroy had built through 54 holes.
It's far from a common sight to see McIlroy in such a position, though; Sunday marked his first major in nearly two years. But when he puts it together, nobody is able to discount his place among the top golfers.
If his company in the youngest three players to win three majors is any indication, he could be on his way to more history-making, as PGA Tour notes:
McIlroy spoke on the hard-earned win and what it means for his career, per TheOpen.com:
Today wasn’t easy. There were a few guys who were making a run at me so I had to stay focused and get the job done. I set myself a target of getting to 20 under today but fortunately I didn’t have to get to it.
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 a career Grand Slam is something I never dreamed about at this stage of my career.
Although the victory could be transcendent for McIlroy's career, it could have been a first for Garcia or Fowler. The 34-year-old Garcia finished second at The Open for his fourth runner-up finish at a major, while the still-young Fowler added another top-five major finish to his resume.
Neither have a major still after coming two strokes shy of the most improbable of comebacks. But at least they both got trophies for the occasion, as Golf Channel's Rex Hoggard noticed:
Unlike the US Open, the R&A had two runner-up trinkets for Fowler & Garcia. Well done. #TheOpen— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) July 20, 2014
The entire field finished more strokes back entering Sunday than they could count on their hand, but that didn't discourage any of the game's best from making serious late runs. Furyk and Marc Leishman both shot rounds of 65 to finish in fourth and fifth, respectively. Scott shot a 66.
But with McIlroy getting near 20-under as the final round wore on, none stood a real chance.
While the weekend was huge for McIlroy and promising for the 11 who posted 10-under final scores or better, it wasn't so much so for some other top names. Tiger Woods finished six strokes over par in his worst-ever performance in a major after making the cut.
Phil Mickelson failed to seriously contest his crown after winning last year's British Open, but he had high praise for this year's champ, per ESPN's Bob Harig:
Phil on idea of Rory getting third leg of career Grand Slam: Masters would be left "and that definitely will happen and probably soon.''— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) July 20, 2014
Despite Tiger's shortcomings and runner-up performances from the likes of Garcia and Fowler, this weekend was all about McIlroy at Royal Liverpool.
The tournament looked to be his from the very beginning. Everyone was chasing the Northern Irish sensation after his Day 1 round of 66. When he duplicated that with the same score on Friday, it was all but over.
It wouldn't have taken a monumental collapse on par with his 2011 Masters showing to lose this one, however. All that needed to happen was a few more bogeys, and Garcia or Fowler would have caught up. But the 25-year-old proved he's grown as a golfer in those three years by holding them off to win it.
If McIlroy can use his Open victory as a springboard, he could go on a tear heading into the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. Entering 2015, he'll have a chance to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters and add to his now three majors.