In a British Open that focused squarely on the major return of one Tiger Woods – and on a course he dominated eight years ago, no less – it was another young talent that made his own mark on Royal Liverpool.
And made a little history of his own.
Rory McIlroy – more in the news lately over his turbulent love life than anything he had done on the golf course – ultimately held aloft a major championship trophy for the third time in his short career. And he did it in dominating fashion: he all but matched Woods’ winning score from 2006 (a 17-under 271). He also finished with a wire-to-wire victory, never trailing at the end of any day during the Open Championship, matching another Woods accomplishment at the British Open in St. Andrews, back in 2005.
McIlroy’s Claret Jug also put him in the record books – at the age of 25, he became the third-youngest golfer to ever reach the three-major mark, trailing only two golfers you might have heard of: the previously-mentioned Woods, and all-time majors leader Jack Nicklaus.
Throughout the tournament, McIlroy showed flashes of the 22-year-old that obliterated the field at the Congressional during the 2011 U.S. Open, and the 23-year-old that did the same to win the PGA Championship. By the time Sunday rolled around, the Northern Irishman from Holywood was already six shots clear of the field.
However, when Sunday rolled around, it looked like flashes of the same young man who lost a four-shot lead at the Masters in 2011, with a posted and 8-over 80 in the final round, started rearing his disappointing, frustrated head. While he started with a birdie on the opening hole, he bogeyed the 5th and 6th holes to leave an ever-widening opening for someone to take the lead. At that point, it looked to be one Sergio Garcia, who finished his front-nine with a bogey-free 32. American Rickie Fowler wasn’t far behind, playing smart and keeping his own pace.
McIlroy would see his lead over Garcia shrink to two by the time he had reached the 14th hole, making a bogey on the 13th. However, smart play and good shots down the stretch would prove he would not be the same kid from Augusta National three years ago. Despite an unruly fan on 16 - one McIlroy would have ejected - he would play bogey-free the rest of the way, with a birdie on said 16th for good measure, to ensure the historic wire-to-wire victory.
McIlroy’s win also made good on a family bet – particularly, a wager his father, Gerry, made back in 2004. Reportedly, the senior McIlroy placed a 200-pound ($341) bet at 500-to-1 odds that his son would win the British Open within 10 years. The payout, expectedly, turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime boon: $171,000.
As for Rory, he is being lauded by the golfing world, as well as the sports media – that is, despite making the huge faux pas of praising his favorite football club, Manchester United (an archrival of local club Liverpool FC) in his victory speech – for his historic win. It is his third major victory in 4 years, and, if he continues on this upward trend, there is little doubt he will find himself among golf’s legends when all is said and done.
McIlroy now sits at No. 2 in the OWGR – a six-spot jump from his previous position of 8th – behind Adam Scott. As the question remains on whether he will build on this success moving forward, or suffer the same gradual declines he saw after he first gained the No. 1 overall ranking three years ago.
One thing is for certain: with another major title under his belt – this one meaningful not only because it was for the Claret Jug, but also because his mother was there to witness it in person for the first time - McIlroy says that his renewed passion for the game is what will drive him to once again regain the World’s No. 1 ranking, and find himself adorning golf’s history books for years to come.