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Rory McIlroy wrote his name into the record books when he carded a closing one under par 71 to claim a two shot victory over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler at the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
At 25 years and 77 days McIlroy became the third youngest golfer to achieve the third leg of the modern Grand Slam after Jack Nicklaus (23 years and 181 days) and Tiger Woods (24 years and 171 days).
He was crowned as just the third Northern Irishman to win The Open Championship following Fred Daly (1947) and Darren Clarke (2011) and also emulated Ted Ray (1912), Bobby Jones (1927), Gene Sarazen (1932), Henry Cotton (1934), Tom Weiskopf (1973) and Woods (2005) as one of only seven players who have led outright over all four rounds since The Open Championship was extended to 72-holes back in 1892.
No wonder he was ecstatic as he hugged his emotional mother and father after holing the winning putt and adding a third Major title to the US Open he won in 2011 and the PGA crown he claimed 12 months later.
McIlroy started the final round six shots clear of Fowler and he promptly increased that margin to seven when he birdied the 458-yard par-4 1st hole from 18-feet. However by the time he carded his second consecutive bogey on the 201-yard par-3 6th he found himself just three shots ahead of Garcia and four in front of playing partner Fowler.
The Ulsterman got back to par for the day with a 15-foot putt for a birdie on the 197-yard par-3 9th and then got into red figures with a two putt birdie on the 532-yard par-5 10th hole.
That second successive birdie took McIlroy to 12 under par for the week on the back nine but he was to drop a shot after missing the green on the 194-yard par-3 13th before sealing his third Major victory with another birdie on the 577-yard par-5 16th followed by two regulation pars over the last two holes
That was enough for the new champion edge out Garcia and Fowler by two shots and to finish four ahead of Jim Furyk who closed with a seven under par 65 to match the fourth place he achieved at Hoylake back in 2006.
Australia’s Marc Leishman also carded a closing 65 to climb into a share of fifth place alongside compatriot Adam Scott while South Africa’s Charl Schwarzel and Italy’s Edoardo Molinari were one shot further behind on 11 under par 277.
On a great day for the Irish Shane Lowry was another player to shoot 65 and he finished in a tie for ninth place alongside France’s Victor Dubuisson and compatriot Graeme McDowell on ten under par 278.
“This has been an incredible week,” said McIlroy after collecting the Claret Jug and a cheque for £975,000.
“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,” he added. “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.
“I’m particularly pleased my Mum was here to see it. She hasn’t been at the previous two Major wins. It was just my Dad so it was great to see her at the back of the 18th green and to see how much it meant to her.
“II was trying not to cry at the time because she was bawling her eyes out. The support they have given me is incredible. They have made all sorts of sacrifices for me and even today they are the two people in the world I can talk to about anything.
“I couldn’t ask to have two better parents. They are there for me at the best of times and also the worst of times like last year when I missed the cut at Muirfield. I can’t speak highly enough about my parents. They are the best people in the world
“We’ll have a few drinks from the Claret Jug tonight. I’ve got a few friends who could fill it with almost anything but seeing it’s the Claret Jug I think it’s only right that we fill it with a good red wine first.
Fowler claimed his best ever finish in The Open with a closing 67 which meant he has now finished second in both of his last two Major starts.
“Today was kind of similar to the US Open,” he admitted. “There I was one of the only two players who shot under par but didn’t win and here I shot four rounds in the 60s but missed out again. It’s tough but it’s hard to be too disappointed. I’m pleased with the way I hung in there. Congratulations to Rory. He played awesome. To see him win was pretty cool.”
The American was the first player to congratulate McIlroy and he indicated later he had no doubt McIlroy would go on to win the Masters and complete the fourth leg of the modern Grand Slam.
“I really don’t have any doubt that he will win there (at Augusta) although it would be nice if I get there first,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t. It definitely fits his game. It’s hard to say there’s really any course than doesn’t suit him when he’s on his game. I’ve seen him play very well there. It’s only a matter of time.
Garcia finished tied-5th at Hoylake in 2006 and this time round came ever closer to ending a winless draught that stretches back 61 Majors.
“It was close and I’m proud of the way I played,” said the Spanish Ryder Cup player. “I think Rickie and I pushed him as hard as we could but it wasn’t quite enough. Everybody wants to make a negative out of finishing second but it’s not at all. I did almost everything I could but I was beaten by a better player.
“It’s a simple as that.”