Rory McIlroy became the first golfer in six years to win consecutive major championships, fighting past Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson to win his second PGA Championship title.
McIlroy lost the one-shot lead he took into the final round at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, before playing the final 12 holes yesterday in 5 under par. He tapped in for a winning par in darkness on the 18th green, with camera flashes illuminating the celebration of his one-stroke victory and fourth in one of the sport’s four majors.
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman finished at 16 under par overall to become the first player to win consecutive majors since Ireland’s Padraig Harrington won the 2008 British Open and PGA Championship. Since 1990, Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Nick Price are the only others with back-to-back major wins.
“At 25 years of age, I didn’t think I would be in this position,” McIlroy said. “I’m trying to just take every victory like this in stride and keep going forward. It’s a great position to be in and I definitely don’t have a problem with being one of the faces, if not the face, of golf.”
Mickelson, a five-time major champion, made a birdie at the 18th hole to finish 15 under, one shot better than fellow American Fowler and Stenson, a Swede. All of them held at least a share of the lead with five or six holes remaining.
“It was good for me to get back in the mix, feel the pressure and to get in the thick of it,” said Mickelson, who hadn’t had a top-10 finish this year. “It was fun. I kind of ran out of steam there. I wasn’t able to get a couple birdies coming in like I needed to.”
Coming off wins at the British Open and Bridgestone Invitational that pushed him to No. 1 in the world ranking, McIlroy becomes the fifth golfer since 1980 to win three straight U.S. PGA Tour starts, joining Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, David Duval and Vijay Singh. McIlroy received $1.8 million for yesterday’s win after getting $1.67 million at the British Open and $1.53 million at the World Golf Championships event. .
He becomes the fourth-youngest golfer with four major titles after Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Morris Jr. McIlroy also won the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship. All four of his major titles have come since Woods, who missed the cut for weekend play, captured the last of his 14 majors in 2008.
“It was a little different than the previous major wins that I’ve had,” said McIlroy, who won each of his first two major titles by eight strokes. “I think I showed a lot of guts out there to get this job done.”
A victory at April’s Masters Tournament would make McIlroy the sixth to win all four current majors in his career, joining Nicklaus, Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen. McIlroy’s best finish in six appearances at the Masters, the season’s first major, was a tie for eighth this year.
“I think the two next realistic goals are the career Grand Slam, and trying to become the most successful European player ever,” said McIlroy, noting that England’s Nick Faldo won six major titles.
After rounds of 66, 67 and 67, McIlroy took a one-shot advantage into the final day and then slipped out of the lead by playing the first nine holes in 1-over par yesterday.
McIlroy made a 7-foot eagle putt at the par-5 10th hole to pull within one of the leaders and hit his approach to about two feet on the par-4 island green 13th hole to set up a birdie that tied him for the lead.
When Mickelson bogeyed the par-4 16th hole, McIlroy was in the lead by himself. He then curled in a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-4 17th hole, thrusting his fist into the air as the ball dropped into the cup to give him a two-shot advantage.
As darkness fell, McIlroy and partner Bernd Wiesberger teed off on the 18th hole as Mickelson and Fowler, in the group ahead, were walking to their balls in the fairway. McIlroy also hit into the green at the 18th, playing up as Mickelson and Fowler walked ahead to finish the hole.
Fowler, who three-putted the 18th hole in the dark for a par that cost him $300,000, finished in the top five of all four major championships this season. He joins Woods and Nicklaus as the third golfer since 1970 to do so. Fowler, 25, is the only one to do it without winning one of the tournaments.
“This one definitely hurts the most,” said Fowler, who got $580,000 by tying for third place instead of the $880,000 he could have made for a share of second. “But I had some great playing this year and the performances in the majors is something I’ll look back on and be proud of.”
Fowler said the original plan on the 18th hole was to let McIlroy tee off in case officials blew the horn to stop play because of darkness. If a player has already teed off when play is halted, he has the option to finish the hole.
“We weren’t planning on them hitting the approach shots while we were up there,” said Fowler. “We wanted to hit the putts and try to put a little pressure on him, but Rory’s played some decent golf in the past couple weeks and he’s been a deserving champion.”
McIlroy afterward thanked Mickelson and Fowler for letting his group play up.
“If they didn’t then it would have been a struggle for us to finish,” McIlroy said. “That showed a lot of sportsmanship and a lot of class from those two guys.”
McIlroy said while visibility was difficult on the final hole, he never considered coming back today to finish. He hit his second shot into a bunker in front of the 18th green and took two putts from 34 feet for the win. McIlroy even caught the lid of the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy in mid-air as it fell off when PGA of America President Ted Bishop handed it to him.
“To win it in this fashion, it means a lot,” McIlroy said. “I know that I can come from behind. I know that I can mix it up with the best players in the world down the stretch in a major and come out on top. Phil Mickelson, the second best player in this generation, to be able to beat him on the back nine on a Sunday; it’s great to have in the memory bank.”
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