Rory lives the American dream
THE CLARION call was distinctive, and the response unerring. And, in this 111th edition of the US Open, Rory McIlroy – destiny’s child – answered the cry from those who bestow such favours with a breathtaking display never previously witnessed in this storied major championship: he shot a finishing round of 69 for a record low 268, 16-under-par, to claim a breakthrough maiden Major at Congressional Country Club yesterday.
In truth, though, McIlroy’s stellar display was of a player at the top of his game and, to use an Americanism, almost it was if he was in a different zip code to everyone else in the field. They played the same course, but McIlroy conquered it with one scintillating shot after another over the four days and, demonstrating his added experience from his Augusta travails, also took the safer option in yesterday’s finishing round when the need required it.
McIlroy went into the final round with an eight shot 54-holes lead over South Korea’s YE Yang, and he never gave any of his chasers an opening. Each authoritative stroke McIlroy made took him towards a new record low for 72 holes in a US Open, eclipsing legendary names like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
On this day, at a place 10 miles north of the White House in the USA’s capital, the Northern Irishman confirmed his place at golf’s top table. His closing round was, for the most part, assured; and if it lacked much of the magic of the previous three days, maybe that reflected McIlroy’s increased maturity as he became the first wire-to-wire champion since Woods in 2002.
The gauntlet was thrown down to any potential pursuers from the first hole, where he hit a wedge to eight feet and rolled in the birdie putt. In stark contrast to the nerves displayed at Augusta, McIlroy, from the off, was in control of his emotions and his game.
He turned in 34 strokes, two under for that front nine, and came home in level par 35, finishing with the sort of putt – a tap-in – on the 18th that every player, from a champion to a hacker, relishes.
And McIlroy lay down a marker for the future: in winning, he became the youngest European player on the modern European Tour to win a maiden Major, at 22 years and 46 days beating the previous record of Seve Ballesteros who was 22 and 103 days in winning the British Open of 1979.
He also became the youngest winner of the US Open since World War II, beating by three months the mark set by Nicklaus.
“After the Masters, he’s really gone to work on his game and improved a lot, there’s no doubt. I think he learnt a lot from the Masters and he’s calmer which is great. It’s absolutely brilliant. I can’t describe how proud I am of him,” said his father, Gerry.
For sure, this is a golden generation of Irish golfers. For years, Fred Daly’s win in the British Open of 1947 stood alone as the one and only Major win by an Irishman. McDowell’s win – the most domineering of the lot and achieved in record-breaking fashion – enabled him to join Pádraig Harrington (British Open champion in 2007 and 2008 and US PGA champion in 2008) and Graeme McDowell, last year’s US Open champion, in that prestige grouping.
McDowell, who finished with a 69 for 282, two-under, in defence of the title he won at Pebble Beach last year, remarked “probability of Northern Ireland producing back-to-back US Open champions is a lottery number. It’s bigger than that . . . . my hat’s off to Rory, it’s been waiting to happen. He’s been this good for a long time and it’s great to see him fulfil his potential. He’s an awesome player.”
He added: “Nothing this kid does ever surprises me. I didn’t have the chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I’ve ever seen, simple as that. He’s great for golf. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game and perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar and maybe Rory is it.”
Harrington, the man who was the catalyst for this golden age, heralded the new king.
“He’s 22 years of age, and this is indeed his destiny . . . . Rory’s a player with tremendous potential and winning fulfils that potential and makes it easier to keep going. I think Rory has set himself apart now in potential, (because) other guys have been in contention and failed to win majors,” said Harrington, who finished with a 73 for 289, three-over, in tied-46th.
As for McIlroy, he played golf of a quality never before seen in the US Open.
McIlroy announced his coming of age with a flair than none of the greats of the past or present had ever managed.
And, really, that says all that needs to be said about McIlroy’s performance.
In this 111th edition of the US Open, he was in a class of his own.