Rory McIlroy's incredible week at Hoylake continued on Sunday, as he was able to hold off the charge of Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler with a final round 71 to claim his third major championship at the 2014 British Open.
Coming into the day, McIlroy had a six shot lead over Rickie Fowler, with Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia seven shots behind. With the way he was playing, someone was going to need to do something special to catch him and early on, Garcia was doing exactly that with three birdies in the first five holes. When McIlroy made bogey on both the fifth and the sixth, it looked possible that this was going to be way more than just a coronation for the 25-year old from Northern Ireland.
Garcia would go on to eagle the 10th and get the lead down to two shots, and Fowler was playing steady as well, keeping it close. On the par-3 15th, Garcia was still within two and fanned his ball into the front green side bunker. Garcia, normally a terrific bunker player, couldn't get out and ended up making bogey. Fowler, who started to make some birdies on the back nine, was just too far back to really make much of a run, and when McIlroy was able to birdie the par- 5 16th, it was pretty much over.
McIlroy was able to make par on the final two holes to win by two over Garcia and Fowler to win his third major championship.
McIlroy was incredible all week in every single aspect of the game. By nature, he's a very aggressive player and the driver was arguably his best club in the bag, averaging just over 327 yards from the tee and it just seemed like whenever he needed to, he was able to crush one down the middle of the fairway. He demolished Hoylake on Thursday and Friday with incredible ball striking into the greens, and even when he was a little off, the putter was there to bail him out.
When McIlroy is on his game, there's nobody who can beat him. He won at Congressional by eight and did the same at Kiawah, and even though this was only a two-shot win, he never really seemed like he lost the handle on the tournament. Dominance is what he is capable of, even against the best players in the world.
Going forward, he's won three-quarters of the career grand slam, only needing to win the Masters to join Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, and Tiger Woods as the only players to win all four major championships. At just 25 years of age, he has tons of time to get that final major.
It's been a tumultuous 18 months on and off the course for McIlroy. The manufacturer change from Titleist to Nike, lawsuits, his horrible 2013 season and all of the drama with Caroline Wozniacki appeared to affect him negatively, but over the past few months, he's been able to let his true talent take over. There's been a ton of pressure on McIlroy over the last few years to be the "next Tiger Woods", and while that will never happen, he's an immensely talented player who is going to win a lot of tournaments and majors for years to come.
There's an argument to be made that no one in golf has more scar tissue than Garcia. He's been so close to winning his first major championship in the past, and while this might look like another one of those situations where he couldn't get it done, he's in the best place he's ever been. He's comfortable on the course, and the putter is no longer a problem. His ball striking is still among the best in the world, and he can work it both ways. His 66 on Sunday tied his best ever closing round in a major and he'll be one of the favourites at Valhalla next month at the PGA Championship.
Fowler has been on fire this year at the majors, and if it weren't for utterly dominating performances by McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, he'd likely have his first major win. His popularity, especially with younger fans, is incredibly important for the PGA Tour, and while he's been looked at as a flashy gimmick in the past, that's not the case any more. He'll be back on the Ryder Cup team in September, and much like Garcia, he's going to be looked at as a favourite at Valhalla.
After an opening round of 69 on Thursday morning, Tiger Woods struggled over the final three days, posting scores of 77-73-75 and finishing at 6-over par. The opening 69 was promising, with a run on the back nine that was reminiscent of Tiger at his peak. He was in total control of the golf ball, hitting draws and cuts from the tee and with his approaches, most of which were landing pin high and following them with strong efforts on the green. It all fell to pieces after the strong start and even with McIlroy's dominance, Tiger will still get a massive amount of attention.
When he was asked before the tournament started about what an acceptable finish would be considering he'd only played two competitive rounds in three and a half months, his answer was simple: "First." Tiger's always going to think that way, even if it's completely illogical for him to do so. It's just the way he's wired. He expects to come out and win every time he tees it up, and as one of the best players in the world, that's exactly how he should think, but with the complete lack of reps, this finish really shouldn't come as that big of a surprise.
For a large stretch of holes on Thursday, Tiger looked incredible and he can look at that as a positive. Playing on the weekend, even if he was completely out of it, was important for him going forward in 2014 with the PGA Championship at Valhalla next month and the Ryder Cup in September where he'll need to be picked by Tom Watson to make the team.