Rory McIlroy became the youngest major champion since Tiger Woods in 1997 with an eight-stroke win at the U.S. Open, where he set 12 records, including the lowest score in the golf tournament’s 111-year history.
McIlroy, 22, shot four straight rounds in the 60s at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, to finish 16- under par at the season’s second major championship. His margin of victory was the fourth-largest at the U.S. Open, which was without Woods, a three-time U.S. Open champion who is sidelined with leg injuries, for the first time since 1994.
“When you win a major quite early in your career, everyone is going to draw comparisons,” McIlroy said of Woods, who has 14 major titles among his 71 U.S. PGA Tour wins. “I’m just happy to be sitting here with a trophy that has his name on it.”
McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, is the youngest man to win the U.S. Open since Hall of Fame golfer Bobby Jones in 1923, and his victory comes two months after he blew a four-stroke lead in the final round of the Masters Tournament, the season’s first major.
“I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly,” he told reporters while nodding at the trophy on the table next to him. “It’s nice to prove some people wrong.”
McIlroy tapped in for a par and the win on the 18th green yesterday, then went to hug his father, Gerry, and wish him “Happy Father’s Day.” He received $1.44 million for his second career win in the U.S. and third worldwide as a professional. McIlroy will jump to fourth from eighth when the next Official World Ranking is released today.
Jason Day of Australia finished second at 8-under par, matching his runner-up finish at the Masters. Day’s score was the lowest by a non-winner at the U.S. Open.
Before this year, the lowest winning score in relation to par at the tournament was Woods’s 12 under in 2000.
McIlroy’s margin of victory is the second biggest in the past 90 years, bettered by Woods’s record 15-shot win at Pebble Beach in 2000. Willie Smith won by 11 strokes at Baltimore Country Club in 1899 and James Barnes won by nine at Maryland’s Columbia Country Club in 1922.
McIlroy, who turned 22 six weeks ago, is the ninth-youngest champion in U.S. Open history.
Nicklaus, 71, was three months older than McIlroy when he got the first of his four titles in 1962. Woods, 35, was 24 when he won the first of his three U.S. Opens and 21 when he captured his first Masters title in 1997.
“This kid is going to have a great career, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Nicklaus, who won a record 18 major titles, said of McIlroy in a televised interview. “He’s got all the right components.”
McIlroy’s performance at Congressional comes in a season in which only one of the previous 25 U.S. PGA Tour events was won by more than two strokes -- Phil Mickelson’s three-shot victory at the Houston Open.
“You can tell that Rory has had this type of talent in him for some time,” said Mickelson, a five-time U.S. Open runner-up who tied for 54th at 7-over par. “To see him putting it together is pretty neat.”
McIlroy led from the start, opening with a 6-under-par 65 for a three-shot advantage that was the biggest after the first round since 1976. He followed with scores of 66, 68 and 69 to become the third player with four rounds in the 60s at the U.S. Open. McIlroy and Robert Garrigus, who tied for third, became the first players since Curtis Strange in 1994 with four straight sub-par U.S. Open rounds. McIlroy also became the sixth player to hold the outright lead after all four rounds.
McIlroy’s title comes a year after another player from Northern Ireland, Graeme McDowell, won the U.S. Open with an even-par score at Pebble Beach. McDowell tied for 14th this year at 2-under par.
“I didn’t have a 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,” McDowell said of McIlroy. “He’s a breath of fresh air for the game. Perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar, and maybe Rory is it.”
The last time two non-Americans from the same country captured the U.S. Open in consecutive years was in 1920-21, when England’s Edward Ray and James Barnes won.
Size of Connecticut
Northern Ireland has a population of 1.7 million and is about the size of Connecticut, the third-smallest U.S. state.
“Golf is very accessible back home,” McIlroy said. “And a big help to me growing up was the Golfing Union of Ireland and the help that they gave me throughout my junior and amateur career, enabling me to play in different places in the world. It really prepared me for coming out on tour.”
Lee Westwood of England, Y.E. Yang of South Korea and Kevin Chappell and Garrigus of the U.S. tied for third at 6 under, 10 shots behind McIlroy. Chappell, a rookie on the U.S. PGA Tour, and Garrigus, who has one career win, prevented the host nation from being left without a player in the top five of the U.S. Open for the first time since 1909.
This is the first time five straight major titles have been won by non-U.S. players.
While McIlroy had three previous third-place finishes in major championships, he had been best known for disappointments. At this year’s Masters, he took a four-shot advantage into the final round before closing with an 8-over 80. At the 2010 British Open, he followed his first-round 63 with an 80 and eventually tied for third.
There was no collapse during the final round at Congressional, where McIlroy birdied his first hole, came within inches of a hole-in-one on the par-3 10th hole and never let anyone get closer than eight strokes.
“A win like that will do wonders for his self-esteem,” said Luke Donald, No. 1 in the world rankings, who tied for 45th at 5-over par. “He’s going to be high on confidence and he’s already got the game to beat anyone.”
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