Rory McIlroy brought his talents, honed on the Northern Irish Coast at Hollywood over the Irish Sea, to Hoylake and sealed a commanding victory at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club this weekend at the illustrious Open Championship. The fabled tournament returned to the Wirral and one of England’s finest links set ups for the first time since Tiger Woods’ emotional victory here in 2006, soon after the passing of his father. Tiger was the man of the moment eight years previously but with the American’s season ruined by both injury and form McIlroy has snatched the media limelight so associated with Californian Woods.
Rory started his week with an impressive bogey free 66 to take the clubhouse lead on a scorching Thursday as the Liverpudlian faithful attended Royal Liverpool in their droves. Your writer spent much of Friday morning stuck in a gargantuan queue heading through Birkenhead to Hoylake; these guys like their golf! However, the litmus test of Rory’s ability to prevail resided in his Friday form. So often this season leads have evaporated and strong foundations crumbled as a result of McIlroy’s performance on cut day. He shot a 78 the previous week at the Scottish Open and a similar Friday score to relinquish the lead at the Memorial at Muirfield Village in late May. Twenty knot gusting winds looked set to continue this trend for Rory but by the afternoon tee times these had dissipated and despite an opening bogey McIlroy would not be derailed and fought brilliantly to card another 66.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott had laboured in the unkind windy conditions of the morning. After tearing down the back nine in round one, Tiger required a seven foot putt on the last on Friday to hang around for the weekend. He triple-bogeyed seventeen after opting for a driver off the tee, a blasphemous move in 2006 when Tiger took irons at almost every tee box. He has never missed two consecutive cuts, (after his early exit at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional) but of course Tiger sank the putt to stay on course for two more days. Whilst McIlroy enjoyed the kind half of the draw his closest competitors come Sunday (Fowler and Garcia) likewise teed off at similar times to McIlroy over the week so can hold few complaints, as did Dustin Johnson who shot a faultless 65 on Friday evening.
Saturday is moving day, and McIlroy turned on the afterburners, jettisoning the field behind him. Sunday was shaping up to be a potential classic until the twenty-five year old eagled 16 and then did the same at the last. This was a vicious assault on the Claret Jug which left the field in the wake of this prodigious talent. Sunday was all but a formality. McIlroy dropped consecutive shots on the front nine but stood firm until the turn and made three birdies down the stretch to stave off any challenge. At one point the lead was cut to two, but Garcia, yet to win his first major, saw his challenge stall with a bogey on the par three 15th to finish tied for second. Young American pretender Fowler became only the third player to shot all three rounds in the sixties and not win the Open to further strengthen his reputation on links courses and as a Ryder Cup candidate.
Meanwhile this victory was affirmation for McIlroy, blighted by poor form in 2013 and personal troubles this year. Despite this he becomes the first player to win his third major before 26 since Woods and Nicklaus. Now only the slopes of the Augusta National fairways and its undulating greens stand between this Northern Irishman and a career grandslam and the realms of golfing immortality. Meanwhile in 2015 the Open comes home to St. Andrews, whilst golf now looks towards the final major of the year, the USPGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. Few would bet against McIlroy adding another Wannamaker Trophy to his cabinet after he cruised to victory at Kiawah Island in 2012. With Tiger’s form still elusive and Mickelson treading water, McIlroy could be the next single superstar to dominate the game of golf.
Featured image: The Belfast Telegraph