October 26th, 2014

Majestic McIlroy wins USPGA title

SportBy Kevin Palmer
McIlroy lifts the Wanamaker Trophy once more
McIlroy lifts the Wanamaker Trophy once more
McIlroy's dramatic eagle at the 10th sent him on his way
McIlroy's dramatic eagle at the 10th sent him on his way
The champ in in the end
The champ in in the end

Rory McIlroy fended off a fearsome chasing pack to land the USGPA title for the second time in a sensational final round Valhalla - and now he is on his way to becoming the greatest Irish sportsman of all-time.

As McIlroy moved past fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington's haul of three major titles to claim his fourth golden golfing gong and less than a month after he won the Open Championship for the first time, the wonderkid from Holywood joined the pantheon of golfing greats.

At the tender age of 25, McIlroy is the undisputed king of golf and while each of his major title wins have had their own magical quality, this may be the victory that gives him the most pleasure.

As local American heroes Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson (below) burned up the front nine and stormed past McIlroy at the top of the leader board, mere mortals would have melted under the pressure and faded in a tournament he has led from the first day.

Yet McIlroy has become the complete golfer in 2014 and having won major titles in runaway fashion and in a slightly edgy manner at Hoylake last month, this was the day when he confirmed his legend.

He started the day with a one-shot lead but dropped two shots in his first six holes and trailed Fowler by three as he reached the turn, Fowler having recovered from a bogey on the second with four birdies in his next five holes.

The par-five 10th had cost McIlroy a double-bogey seven on Thursday but three days later he hit a fairway wood to seven feet and holed the eagle putt to get back into contention in stunning fashion.

Mickelson then birdied the 11th to join his playing partner Fowler in the lead, the pair exchanging fist-bumps as they walked to the 12th tee, and Henrik Stenson made it a three-way tie with a birdie on the 13th.

Stenson had offered a prayer of thanks to the golfing Gods when his approach had just carried the water, only to three-putt the next to drop out of the lead and effectively end his chances of a first major title.

McIlroy missed good birdie chances on the 11th and 12th, the latter after seeing Mickelson in the group ahead hole from 30 feet across the green for an unlikely par, but the world number one made no mistake from eight feet on the 13th to get back into a share of the lead with five holes remaining.

Fowler was the first to crack under the pressure after a wayward tee shot led to a bogey on the 14th, and when Mickelson bogeyed the 16th, McIlroy was back in the outright lead for the first time since the third hole.

As the light quickly faded, McIlroy delivered the killer blow with a birdie from nine feet on the 17th to enjoy a two-shot lead playing the last.

The rush to finish the 18th hole before darkness took hold of Valhalla meant McIlroy made something of a mess of the 18th and nearly pumping his drive into the water with his drive, firing his second in the green side bunker, but he knew a par five would be enough to get the job done.

McIlroy emotion at the end said it all about what this meant to him, as his father joined him on the green to toast his moment of glory.

"I showed a lot of guts out there today to get the job done," said McIlroy. "I never dreamed I could have a summer like this, playing the best golf of my life.

"It was tough at the end. It was so dark and it was tough to get a perception of depth in the bunker shot I had on the last hole. I just wanted to get out of here today as a winner."

The best player in the world of golf is a major champion all over again and on this form, he is as likely to match Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles as the fading Tiger Woods.

FINAL LEADERBOARD

Rory McIlroy -16 

Phil Mickelson -15  

Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson -14

Jim Furyk, Ryan Palmer -12