Every time Rory McIlroy lined up a shot Sunday, there was some sort of record on the line, some kind of history to be made.
That was this year’s U.S. Open version of suspense. There was never any doubt that the kid from Northern Ireland was going to win it.
In complete control of his emotions and his game, McIlroy never slipped. He won his first major championship by shooting a 2-under 69 at ultra-soft Congressional and closed his four-day onslaught at 16-under 268, eight shots ahead of Jason Day and four shots better than the U.S. Open scoring record formerly held by four players, including men named Woods and Nicklaus.
McIlroy now joins them on the list of major winners, two months after a collapse so thorough, some wondered if he could ever recover. He took a four-shot lead into the final day of the Masters. But after hitting his 10th tee shot near a cabin on the outskirts of Augusta National, he melted down, shot 80 and finished 15th.
His shot on the 10th hole of this one showed how far he’s come. On the 214-yard par-3, a downhill shot over water, McIlroy knocked the ball above the hole, then watched as it stopped for a split second and started spinning — backward, backward, before stopping an inch or two from the hole. He pursed his lips. “Oooh,” he said. Yeah, that was nice.
He tapped in for a birdie that got him to 17-under par at a tournament that had never seen a score lower than 12 under before Friday.
He ended up at 16 under, coming short of the all-time major record of 19-under par — set by Tiger Woods at St. Andrews in 2000. But McIlroy put plenty of ink in that record book nonetheless.
He owns the scoring records for 36, 54 and 72 holes at the toughest test in golf and he became only the third player to break 70 in all four rounds of the U.S. Open.
He did it at age 22, the same age as Nicklaus when he won the first of his record 18 majors. The two have become friends and The Bear appreciates what he’s been seeing.
“I think this kid’s going to have a great career,” Nicklaus said in an interview on NBC. “I don’t think there’s any question about it. He’s got all the components.”
Day ended up winning the real competition in this one — the race for second, and has now been runner-up in the first two majors of the year. Kevin Chappell, Lee Westwood and Robert Garrigus tied for third at 6 under.
Adam Hadwin (68) of Abbostford, B.C., finished the tournament at 3-over par. Calgary’s Wes Heffernan (78) struggled in the final round, finishing at 19 over.
Pretty much everyone outside of Westwood conceded this one was over before the day even began, and as player after player came off the course, the testimonials poured in.
“As I’ve said before, I think he has probably the most talent I’ve ever seen from a golfer,” said Luke Donald, the top-ranked player in the world, after finishing at 5-over par. “Lovely to watch him play, such a fluid motion, and he hits it far.”
Said Phil Mickelson: “You can tell that Rory has had this type of talent in him for some time now, and to see him putting it together is pretty neat to see.” He finished with a 71 on Sunday that left him 7 over.
And this from Graeme McDowell, last year’s champion and a countryman of McIlroy: “Nothing this kid does ever surprises me. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen.”
McIlroy kept his head down throughout this round, sticking to his mental game plan of thinking about golf shots, not championships. Finally, as he walked to the 18th green, he waved and smiled to a gallery on hand for one of the most dominating performances the game has seen.
He became only the sixth player to shoot under par in all four rounds of a U.S. Open. Earlier, Garrigus became the fifth player to accomplish that feat — impressive, but a mere footnote on this day.
The dissection started right away, when McIlroy dug his approach shot on No. 1 out of a divot to feet for a birdie. He made another one after hitting to tap-in range on the fourth hole to move to 16 under.
McIlroy didn’t give a stroke back to par until No. 12 but it was only his third over the entire tournament — including his double bogey on No. 18 on Friday and a bogey on the 10th in the third round. As if to prove he was human, he three-putted the 17th green for another bogey. It was the first time he’d done that all week.
It was another calm, overcast day at Congressional, and there were more low scores to be had. The Blue Course has been taking a beating despite measuring 7,574 yards — second longest in U.S. Open history.
“It’s not really a U.S. Open golf course, to be honest,” Martin Kaymer said.
But nobody took advantage better than McIlroy, whose dad was in the gallery, watching his son take a bite out of the record book.
After the final tap-in, Gerry McIlroy met his son as he walked off the green.
“Happy Father’s Day,” the new champion said.
Happy Father’s Day, indeed.