In winning his second major golf title, Rory McIlroy broke a record set by Jack Nicklaus while wearing a bright red shirt more associated with Tiger Woods.
With his eight-shot win at the PGA Championship yesterday, McIlroy, 23, set the largest margin of victory in the final major of the season -- surpassing Nicklaus’s 32-year-old mark. He also took another step toward cementing his status as the leading contender on a list of would-be successors to Woods.
McIlroy finished with a score of 13-under-par 275. Englishman David Lynn was second at 5 under.
“He’s going to be a superstar of the game, which he already is, but he’s a real superstar now,” said Graeme McDowell, McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman and the 2010 U.S. Open champion. “He’s going to be the player that kids look up to, that kids measure their own games by. Ten years ago, it was Tiger Woods.”
As McIlroy hoisted the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy on the 18th green of Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, Woods, 36, left the South Carolina venue still seeking his 15th major title. Even Woods, who finished tied for 11th place after sharing the lead at the halfway stage, found it hard to ignore McIlroy’s win.
“He’s got all the talent in the world and this is the way that Rory can play,” Woods, whose last major title came at the 2008 U.S. Open, told reporters. “When he gets it going, it’s pretty impressive to watch.”
McIlroy’s victory, in which he finished with a bogey-free 6-under-par 66 yesterday on a golf course dubbed by Golf Digest magazine as “America’s Toughest,” was the type of lopsided win previously reserved for Woods. McIlroy also ascended to the top spot on the Official World Golf Ranking, leapfrogging No. 2-ranked Woods to unseat England’s Luke Donald.
He did it while wearing a bright red shirt, a garment typically worn in the final round by Woods during his career.
“If I was going to be paired with him, I wasn’t going to wear red,” McIlroy said. “I might have to do it from now on; no wonder he wins so much.”
McIlroy, who won his first major at the 2011 U.S. Open, is four months younger than Woods was when he captured his second major at the 1999 PGA Championship. While he said he had set a goal to reach 12 under yesterday, the final margin didn’t seem to matter as much as the silver trophy that came with it.
The eight-stroke win broke Nicklaus’s PGA Championship victory margin of seven over Andy Bean in 1980.
“It’s a nice record to have,” he said of besting Nicklaus’s mark. “I don’t really care if I win by one or if I win by eight. I just want to win.”
McIlroy began the final round with a three-stroke lead over Sweden’s Carl Pettersson. After nine holes, England’s Ian Poulter had pulled within two shots before slipping back with three straight bogeys, giving McIlroy a six-shot cushion with six holes remaining. Poulter finished with four bogeys over his final six holes, while McIlroy pulled away.
“He was just better than everybody,” Pettersson, who was paired with McIlroy in the final round and finished tied for third at 4 under, said of his playing partner. “And it was clear to everybody.”
The win is the seventh of McIlroy’s career and second of 2012 following his victory at the Honda Classic in March. It erases disappointment in the other three majors this season.
McIlroy entered the third day of April’s Masters Tournament one shot off the lead only to finish tied for 40th after a 5-over 77 in the third round. He then missed the cut in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, and finished tied for 60th at last month’s British Open. He also held a four-shot lead as he entered the final day of the 2011 Masters before an 8-over 80 final round dropped him to 15th.
“I made it very clear that I wasn’t too happy with how I’ve performed in the majors since the U.S. Open,” he said. “I didn’t really contend.”
Before the PGA Championship began, McIlroy said his season was only worthy of a B grade. With his latest trophy sitting a few feet to his right yesterday, he upgraded his report card.
“A-Plus,” he said, smiling. “I heard Tiger say, you can have a good season, but to make a good season a great season, you need a major championship. Now I’ve had two great seasons in a row.”
Woods, a four-time PGA Championship winner, shot even-par 72 in the final round after a 2-over 74 in the rain-delayed third round. Woods didn’t break par in a weekend round at a major this year.
McIlroy, his arms folded in front of his red shirt, said he welcomes the comparisons to Woods and the inevitable scrutiny that comes with it.
“I realize that every time my face is on TV or I’m playing in a tournament, that I am a role model for a lot of people and a lot of kids do look up to me,” he said. “I try to do my best in that regard and put myself across as honestly and as modestly as possible. It’s a huge honor to be put in that position to have an effect on so many people’s lives.”