On an extra-long Sunday at Kiawah Island, Rory McIlroy racked up an extra-big victory. McIlroy, at age 23, dominated the final round and won his second major by a PGA-record eight shots.
Published: Sunday, August 12, 2012 | 7:17 p.m.
McIlroy validated his record-setting U.S. Open win last year by blowing away the field Sunday at Kiawah Island. One last birdie from 25 feet on the 18th hole gave him a 6-under 66 for an eight-shot victory, breaking the PGA Championship record for margin of victory that Jack Nicklaus set in 1980.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland returned to No. 1 in the world, and he became the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros to win two majors. Tiger Woods was about four months older than McIlroy when he won his second major.
Just like the U.S. Open, this one was never seriously in doubt.
McIlroy seized control with back-to-back birdies Sunday morning to complete the storm-delayed third round with a 67 and build a three-shot lead. No one got closer than two shots the rest of the way, and McIlroy closed out a remarkable week by playing bogey-free over the final 23 holes of a demanding Ocean Course.
David Lynn, a 38-year-old from England who was playing in America for the first time, won the B-flight. He closed with a 68 and was the runner-up.
Woods, who shared the 36-hole lead for the second time this year in a major, was never a serious factor. He tossed away his chances Saturday before the storm blew in and never could get closer than four shots. He closed with a 72, failing to break par on the weekend in any of the four majors for the first time in his career.
If there was a signature shot for McIlroy at Kiawah Island, it might have been Saturday when his tee shot lodged into a tree on the third hole. He only found it with help from the TV crew, took his penalty shot and fired a wedge into 6 feet to save par. He was on his way, and he never let up.
McIlroy also won the U.S. Open by eight shots, the kind of dominance that Woods has displayed over so many years.
By winning the PGA Championship, he is halfway home to the career Grand Slam.
“It was a great round of golf. I’m speechless,” said McIlroy after hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy, the heaviest of the four majors. “It’s just been incredible. I had a good feeling about it at the start. I never imagined to do this.”
Winning the final major the year ends what had been a tumultuous season for McIlroy. Despite winning the Honda Classic in early March, he went into a tail spin by missing four cuts over five tournaments, as questions swirled that his romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was hurting his game.
Instead, McIlroy put a big hurt on the strongest field of the year.
“He’s very good. We all know the talent he has,” Woods said. “He went through a little spell this year, and I think that was good for him. We all go through those spells in our careers. He’s got all the talent in the world to do what he’s doing. And this is the way that Rory can play. When he gets it going, it’s pretty impressive to watch.”
McIlroy finished on 13-under 275.
Ian Poulter put up the stiffest challenge, though not for long. Poulter, who started the final round six shots behind, made six birdies through seven holes to get within two shots. He made three straight bogeys on the back nine and had to settle for a 69. He tied for third at 4-under 284, along with Justin Rose (66) and defending champion Keegan Bradley (68).
In the final qualifying event for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, nothing changed.
Phil Mickelson was holding down the eighth and final spot, and he stayed there when neither Bo Van Pelt nor Steve Stricker could make a move on the back nine. Davis Love III will announce four captain’s picks in three weeks.
McIlroy was tied for the lead with Vijay Singh when he returned Sunday. Twenty-seven holes later, he had no peer in the final major of the year.
When he won the U.S. Open last year, Padraig Harrington suggested that perhaps McIlroy — not Woods — might be the one to challenge the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus. That looked like nothing more than one Irishman boosting another when McIlroy didn’t come close in the next five majors.
“I think winning his second major is going to make things a lot easier for him,” Harrington said. “I think last year he proved it, but there’s been ups and downs since his last major win because of the pressure and the expectations and the hype. Now he’s delivered again. It’s going to be a lot easier for him going forward. And he’ll get better.”
McIlroy went out in 33, saving par with a 10-foot putt on the ninth hole. That’s what Woods used to do in the majors.
Poulter’s birdie on the par-5 11th hole closed the gap to two shots, but not for long. From the sandy area short of the 10th green, McIlroy blasted out and closed his eyes when the wind blew sand into his face. He never saw the ball check a foot from the cup. And with a 10-foot birdie on the 12th, there was no stopping him.
The win ends a streak of the last 16 majors going to 16 different winners. McIlroy joined Woods, Harrington and Mickelson as the only players to win majors in consecutive years over the last two decades.
“It means an awful lot to look at the names on that trophy, and to put my name alongside them is very special,” McIlroy said.
Pettersson tried to put up a good fight, though he suffered a setback on the first hole without even realizing it.
The Swede drove just inside a red hazard line. He checked to make sure his club could touch the grass without grounding the club. That part was fine. However, PGA rules officials determined after scrutinizing a video replay that a small leaf that moved as Pettersson took back the club. That violates Rule 13-4c — moving a loose impediment while in a hazard — and three holes later he was informed it was a two-shot penalty. The par became a double bogey.
Pettersson responded with back-to-back birdies. By then, it was too late for Pettersson, really too late for anybody.
McIlroy might have won this major before breakfast.
He was among 26 players who had to return Sunday morning, playing the back nine to finish the storm-delayed third round. Tied with Vijay Singh at 6-under par, McIlroy missed two short birdie chances, and then made bogey on the 13th. He rebounded with birdies on the 15th and 16th, a tough bunker save on the 17th and a closing par for a 67 that gave him a three-shot lead.
Not once during the final round did the kid look like he was going to lose this one.
After going back to his island home for breakfast, a quick nap and a change of clothes — a bright red shirt, no less — McIlroy looked solid as ever. After pulling his approach on the par-5 second hole under a tree, he hit wedge off the wood chips to 6 feet for birdie. He came up just short of the green at No. 3, where the tees were moved up to play 293 yards, and hit an even better flip wedge to a tiny target on an elevated green. McIlroy holed a 15-foot birdie putt, and he was on his way.
Woods stepped into a cactus while hitting out of the dunes on the 15th hole in the morning, and his day got even more painful from there. He has gone 14 majors since winning his last one, No. 14, at the 2008 U.S. Open. He looks to be closer, with three PGA Tour wins this year and two 36-hole leads in the majors.
His regret when it was over — he tied for 11th — was all about attitude.
“I came out with the probably the wrong attitude yesterday,” he said. “And I was too relaxed, and tried to enjoy it, and that’s now how I play. I play intense and full systems go. That cost me.”
It might not have mattered.
McIlroy said earlier in the week that he only wanted to give himself a chance, to feel that buzz of being in contention in the final round. He wound up putting the buzz back into golf, a sport in which all the talk has been about parity. McIlroy’s name on the leaderboard means something.
“Rory is showing that his `A’ game, everybody else is going to struggle to compete with him,” Harrington said. “And Tiger needs his `A’ game to come up against Rory. … If Rory is playing as well as he is, Tiger is not going to pick a major off unless he’s got his `A’ game out there.”