Bethesda (Maryland): Rory McIlroy captured his first Major golf title in historic fashion, turning the final round of the 111th US Open into a virtual victory lap on his way to an eight-stroke triumph on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Northern Ireland prodigy fired a two-under par 69 to finish 72 holes at Congressional Country Club on 16-under par 268, the lowest winning total in US Open history, and become the youngest US Open winner in 88 years.
"The whole week has been incredible," McIlroy said. "I couldn't ask for much more. I'm just happy to be holding this trophy."
The Ulsterman humbled course and rivals the same way 21-year-old Tiger Woods ripped apart Augusta National and overwhelmed the field in the 1997 Masters for the first of his
14 career Major triumphs.
McIlroy became the youngest Major winner since Woods at the 1997 Masters and the youngest US Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923. "Heck of a performance," Woods said in a statement. "Congrats and well done. Enjoy it. This was an impressive performance."
Woods, mired in a 20-month win drought since his infamous sex scandal, missed the US Open with a left knee injury but his record-setting 15-shot romp at Pebble Beach at the 2000 US Open was in McIlroy's thoughts.
"Do I know how good Tiger was in 2000? I was going out there and trying to emulate him in some way," McIlroy said. "I was great for four days and I couldn't be happier about it."
Masters runner-up Jason Day of Australia was a distant second on 276. South Korean Yang Yong-Eun, England's Lee Westwood and Americans Robert Garrigus and Kevin Chappell shared third on 278 but none made a serious bid to deny McIlroy a wire-to-wire victory.
With earlier scores of 65, 66 and 68, McIlroy became only the third player in US Open history to complete four rounds in the 60s, matching Lee Janzen and Lee Trevino in achieving the feat.
McIlroy, who has led seven of the eight major rounds completed this year, began the day with an eight-stroke lead over final-group partner Yang and made the turn with the margin intact.
McIlroy, who shared third at last year's British Open and the past two PGA Championships, had squandered a four-stroke lead after 54 holes at the Masters two months ago, a woeful tee shot at the 10th leading to a triple bogey on his way to a final-round 80.
But when McIlroy came to Congressional's par-three 10th hole, with water in front of the green and bunkers in the back, he launched the ball safely onto the green and it rolled
back inches from the cup to set up a tap-in birdie.
"I'm very happy with a two there any day," McIlroy said. "That was the point in the round where I felt it was mine to lose... I knew I had to do something pretty bad to lose it."
The birdie put McIlroy to 17-under, five-strokes lower to par than any player at any point in any US Open ever played, and all-but ended any notion McIlroy would repeat his
nightmare back-nine from Augusta National.
"Augusta was a very valuable experience for me," McIlroy said. "I learned a few things about myself and my game and I put them into practice. I knew what I had to do to win."
Yang, the only man to deny Woods a Major title when Woods led after 54 holes, birdied the sixth and ninth to keep what pressure he could upon McIlroy but could not crack McIlroy's resolve on the back nine.
Even when McIlroy missed a five-foot par putt at 12 for just his fourth dropped shot of the week, his second bogey after a double bogey on his 36th hole, Yang took a bogey at 15
to stay nine back.
McIlroy's first three-putt green of the week came on the 71st hole and cost him another bogey but the boy wonder parred the 18th with a tap-in and pumped his first with joy before celebrating with his father Gerry. "Happy Father's Day dad," McIlroy said. "This is for you."
McIlroy's utter domination sparked comparisons with Woods, although the idea that a 14-time Major champion might have been only the warm-up act for McIlroy's magnificence threatened to boggle the mind of the golf world.
"I think this kid is going to have a great career, no question about that," 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus said. "He plays very well. He had a couple disappointments. I didn't
think that was going to happen again and it hasn't."
McIlroy, who jumps from eighth to fourth in the world rankings, became the 11th different winner in the past 11 Majors and the eighth first-time Major champion among the past nine Major winners.
His triumph also marked the fifth major in a row without an American winner, the longest US major drought in history. McIlroy followed countryman Graeme McDowell in hoisting the US Open trophy.
"For such a small nation to win two US Opens in a row is pretty special," McIlroy said. "There will be a lot of pints of Guinness going down. I know a few of my friends will be out partying. I can't wait to join them."
Nice to prove people wrong
McIlroy had only won one US Tour event and one European Tour event coming into the tournament, but he had displayed his sublime talent in finishing tied for third in last year's British Open and PGA Championship and tied for 10th at the 2009 US Open.
The former world number one ranked amateur looked poised to make the Masters his first Major when he carried a four-shot lead into the final round. By the 10th hole, however, that lead had shrunk to one and he unraveled at the 10th hole with a series of wayward shots that led to triple-bogey and an ugly final-round 80 on his card.
Some believed the wounds of that public humiliation would take their toll on the young golfer. "I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly," said McIlroy, who finished third the next week in Malaysia.
"I kept telling you guys that and I don't know if you believed me or not. But here you go (laughter). Nice to prove some people wrong."