RORY McIlroy completed the third leg of golf’s career Grand Slam after using the pain of missing the cut at Muirfield 12 months ago to become the Open champion.
Six ahead at the start of the final round at Hoylake, the 25-year-old was pushed all the way by Spaniard Sergio Garcia before adding the Claret Jug to his successes in the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA Championship.
It leaves only The Masters standing between McIlroy and a place in the game’s folklore alongside Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
McIlroy, who won by two shots on Merseyside from Garcia and American Rickie Fowler, is only the third player after Nicklaus and Woods to claim three majors by the age of 25.
The success, which lifted him eight places to second behind Adam Scott in the world rankings, came exactly a year after he suffered a meltdown in the same event.
McIlroy bowed out at the halfway stage in East Lothian after claiming he felt “brain dead” and “unconscious”.
“Missing the cut at Muirfield last year was a very low point,” he admitted after signing off with a 71 for a 17-under-par total of 271. “I said to myself, ‘I’ll try to never make that happen again’. What a difference a year makes.
“To sit here at 25 with my third major and be three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam is something I never dreamed of at this point in my career.
“The Open Championship was the one you really wanted growing up and the one you holed so many putts to win, beating Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, whoever.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but the more I keep looking at this trophy and seeing my name on it, the more that will start to happen.”
He dedicated the victory to his mum Rosie, who was in a flood of tears when she hugged the new champion as he walked off the 18th green after securing a popular victory.
“My mum hasn’t been at the previous two major wins – it was just my dad,” he said. “It was great to see her at the back of the green and how much it meant to her. I was trying not to cry as she was bawling her eyes out.
“The support of my parents has been incredible. There’re there for me at the worst times, like this time last year after missing the cut at Muirfield, or the best times such as walking off as the ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’. They’re the best parents in the world.”
Earlier, McIlroy had asked security guards to remove a spectator from the course after being heckled by him. Straight after hitting his tee shot, the Northern Irishman used his driver to point out the troublesome individual before walking down the fairway.
“He was giving me grief all day,” reported McIlroy. “I sort of put up with it for the first 15 holes and then he deliberately coughed on my downswing on the 16th tee. Though I still hit a great drive, I heard it halfway down and knew who it was. So I turned around and got him chucked out.”
While intending to savour his triumph, McIlroy is already looking forward to putting the Claret Jug on the line at St Andrews next year. “It’s my favourite Open venue and I can’t wait to defend this thing there,” he declared.
Garcia, who twice got within two shots of the lead, had no complaints despite seeing his wait for an elusive first major continue.
“Many good things happened throughout this week,” said the Spaniard. “Both Rickie and I tried to push him [McIlroy] as hard as we could. I think we gave it a good effort but there was someone a little better.”
It was Fowler’s third top-five finish in majors this year, having also tied for second in the US Open and, before that, fifth in The Masters. That run of big performances have secured his main goal this season – a Ryder Cup appearance at Gleneagles in September.
“I wanted to be in contention at the majors as my long-distance goal was to be on the Ryder Cup team and I’m delighted to have given myself that opportunity,” said the 25-year-old, who made his debut in the event at Celtic Manor in 2005.
A final-day crowd of 42,149 took the total attendance for the week to 202,917. That was around 26,000 down on the 2006 event here but around 60,000 up on last year’s figure at Muirfield