'An amazing week'
Rory McIlroy, 2014 Open Champion
Rory McIlroy most definitely made to work for the honour of becoming the first European to win three of the four majors.
Real champions can withstand real pressure and, thanks to Sergio García, the tension verged on excruciating as McIlroy’s six-shot lead began to tumble.
The 25-year-old hung tough, however, and in his two-shot victory, he revealed a new facet to his evermore impressive armoury. You cannot win every one of your majors by eight shots.
When McIlroy tapped in for a 71 and a 17-under total, he smiled and subtly punched his fist. It was the reaction of a player who expected to deliver and he can complete the career grand slam at the Masters next year and join the greats.
García belied his reputation, refusing to give up on his dream, despite starting the day seven behind. Eight years ago here at Royal Liverpool, García wore all yellow in the final group and Woods texted friends to say he “bludgeoned Tweetie Pie”. Well, for so long out there the canary had a gas. Of the active pros, only Lee Westwood (66) has played more majors without winning, but on his 64th attempt García, so often the bridesmaid, threatened to charge the altar.
García went to the turn in three-under, birdieing the first, holing from 20 feet on the third and picking up another on the par-five fifth. When McIlroy had consecutive bogeys on the fifth and sixth his seven-shot advantage had been reduced to three, with Rickie Fowler, McIlroy’s playing partner, within four. There had been the air of certainty, but suddenly anxiety filled the atmosphere.
McIlroy restored some order to proceedings when holing a 15-footer for a birdie on the par-three ninth; his lead was four at the turn. Not for long. A García eagle from eight feet on the par-five 10th and he was within two shots – just two – and, although McIlroy duly birdied the 10th, a bogey on the par-three 13th, after a terrible, pulled tee-shot, brought it back again.
García had enjoyed outrageous luck on the 12th when his sliced approach flew into the grandstand and bounced out to the edge of the green. But no amount of good fortune was going to save him from a bogey when he left it in the bunker on the 15th. Fowler birdied the 15th to move alongside García and with three to go, McIlroy was three clear. McIlroy’s legion of fans breathed a little calmer.
The one concern for them were the two par-fives in Hoylake’s closing trio, which can create wild fluctuations. García had a 25-footer for eagle, but left it short. He was within two again, but after a ridiculously long drive, McIlroy hit the green and so almost putted in for eagle. Three up, two to play – all over in matchplay and with McIlroy in this mood, practically over in strokeplay as well.
There was one moment of angst when McIlroy’s approach on the 18th located a bunker. Yet he only needed a six and when he splashed out to 12 feet he could start the celebration. Rose McIlroy had not been at the 2011 US Open or the 2012 US PGA, so she received first hugs. “This one is for you mum,” McIlroy said at the prize-giving.
García was left to share second on 15-under with Fowler (67), with the veteran American Jim Furyk (65) in fourth on 13-under and two Australians in Adam Scott (65) and Mark Leishman (65) in a tie for fifth. Two more Irishman enjoyed top-10 finishes in Shane Lowry (65) and Graeme McDowell (67) on 10-under. The best-placed Englishman was David Howell (68) in a tie for 15th on eight-under alongside the Scot Stephen Gallacher (68).
And then there was Woods, way down in 69th after a 75 to end on six-over. We should have anticipated much more after his back surgery less than four months ago.