Rory finds his redemption
Ulsterman rises from the ashes of Augusta to claim stunning US Open victory
RORY McILROY, the irresistible young Congressional candidate, was sworn in last night as golf's new global leader after a victory in the 111th US Open which was as thrilling for the game as it was chilling for his rivals.
Washington is well accustomed to landslides but even the United States capital was left open-mouthed by the one-sided nature of this contest. When the 22-year-old tapped in on the 18th to become the youngest European winner of a major in 139 years, he was eight shots clear of Jason Day in second. Has there ever been a greater contrast between a player at successive majors?
At the Masters, the Ulsterman was a crumpled figure after a final-round 80 which broke a million hearts. Just two months later he stepped on to the final green like a colossus, with the world, and more particular its mother, weeping at golf 's ultimate redemption. This was not a tournament, it was a coronation, with one of the most well-received processions the sport will ever witness. Every stride he took, the noise became louder as the galleries realised they were acclaiming history.
At 16-under, with 268 shots, his final-round 69 making it all four rounds in the 60s, McIlroy broke the US Open's lowest total record by four. What a way for Ireland to celebrate the almost surreal achievement of winning the game's toughest major twice in as many years. No, McIlroy did not emulate the 15-shot triumph by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, but in becoming the youngest winner of the US Open in 88 years, he reminded everyone of the 14-time major winner in his pomp. With Woods back at home in his Florida home wearing an immobilising boot to protect his injured Achilles, this was perfect timing on McIlroy's behalf.
It feels like a succession, he looks like the heir, it is surely the start of a new era. McIlroy may have only advanced to world No3 with this win, but everybody appreciates there is a new king on the throne. The prince has come of age.
And what credibility this major lent to his accession. In becoming the US Open's seventh wire-to-wire winner McIlroy had created so many records even before he ambled on to the property yesterday.
He posted the lowest 36-hole total in the tournament's history and the lowest 54-hole total. He matched Woods' largest 36-hole lead of six shots and became the first player in the US Open to reach 13- under, 14-under, 15-under, 16-under, 17- under. By the way, the US Open has been going for 115 years. McIlroy, meanwhile, has been going for all of 11 majors and when his inexperience is put alongside the fact that he has led in seven out of the eight majors rounds thus far contested in2011 – and more incredibly, in 135 of the 144 holes – there can be little wonder the pronouncements and predictions will be on the vast side of substantial.
Experts such as Pádraig Harrington were even daring to say he could be bigger than Tiger. The reason why was written all over his four scorecards. True, the rains had softened Congressional to a status so benign it barely resembled a US Open leaderboard. In all 20 players finished under par and those golfing sadists at the USGA usually care to see one player in the red, perhaps none. But still, the gaping gap back to the rest highlighted McIlroy's dominance. It was not just his golf – although that was as near to flawless as it is possible to be – but the manner in which he composed himself throughout the examination.
He said he had learned his lessons from his Masters meltdown and he proved so in a style that should embarrass his many doubters.
His course-management was steeped in maturity, his temperament drenched in serenity. McIlroy, with just two previous professional titles to his name, has plainly unlocked the secret of his potential and that should be genuinely terrifying for the others. So much for majors not being won on Saturdays. He treated yesterday like some sort of form-filling formality. How impressive was the opening to the round? Well, he birdied the first, after striking a wedge to eight feet, birdied the fourth, after striking a wedge to four feet and so lengthened the already lengthy eight-shot lead.
Yet it was the par saves he made which truly spelt out his conviction. He had yet to three-putt all week and showed his determination not to; first when holing a six-footer on the second and then holing a 15-footer on the fifth. Stress-free pars followed until the 10th when McIlroy decided to put some daylight between himself and YE Yang who had dared to cut the deficit from 10 to eight. Here came the highlight of the day, a six-iron hit straight over the flag on the 281-yard par three, spinning it back to within a few inches of the cup. It was over, finito, goodbye rivals, hello immortality.
McIlroy had sucked all the drama out of the action, just like Woods used to. There was one hiccup when he bogeyed the 12th, but no matter. His two-putt from off the green on the 18th was the finish of a champion. In the huge shadow cast by his brilliance it was all too easy to overlook those trudging in behind. Jason Day, a 23-year-old Australian, took runner-up honours for the second time in as many majors, while in a tie for third came Lee Westwood.
Will there be any stopping this Holywood superstar now? Tiger is probably better off on his sofa.