Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy banished any talk of problems with his swing as he romped to a record-breaking victory in the year’s final Major.
How could anyone have doubted Rory McIlroy? With many experts wondering whether the 23-year-old Ulsterman had taken his eye off the ball after a series of disappointing results, he delivered the perfect riposte by running away with the 94th US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
There had been talk of McIlroy being distracted by his relationship with Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and of problems with his swing.
However, the European Ryder Cup ace silenced the doubters by matching his eight-shot triumph in his first Major success – at the US Open last year – and, in so doing, set a new record for the US PGA.
- became the first player from Northern Ireland to win the US PGA Championship and the first from the United Kingdom since Tommy Armour in 1930
- became the youngest player to win the Championship since Tom Creavy in 1931 and the youngest to win his first two Majors since Seve Ballesteros in 1980 at 23 years and 100 days
- regained top spot in the world golf rankings
- stopped the run of 16 consecutive different Major winners dating back to Padraig Harrington at the 2008 US PGA Championship.
There was never any question about who would lift the enormous Wanamaker Trophy once McIlroy finished his storm-delayed third round on the final morning with consecutive birdies to card a five-under-par 67 and open up a three-shot lead on 209, seven under.
Although there was a brave challenge in the fourth round from England’s Ian Poulter, who fired six birdies in seven holes to move to within two shots of his Ryder Cup team-mate, the Englishman dropped four shots in the last six holes to slide back into a share of third place.
McIlroy, on the other hand, could do no wrong, never once going over par for the final 23 holes as he carded a 66 and put the icing on the cake with a 25-footer for birdie on the last hole to finish on 275, 13 under.
“It was a great round of golf – I’m speechless,” he said. “It’s just been incredible. I had a good feeling about it at the start, but I never imagined I’d do this. It means an awful lot to look at the names on that trophy and to put my name alongside them is very special.
“The game-plan was just to play solid. I got off to a bit of a shaky start, but I settled into it and I thought my putting today was phenomenal.”
McIlroy had sounded an early warning that he meant business with a 67 on the first day, which left him in joint second place with American Gary Woodland, Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Alex Noren of Sweden – one adrift of another Swedish native, Carl Pettersson.
It was the first time in 21 attempts at the US PGA that Pettersson had shot a round in the 60s and his 66 came with the help of three birdies in four holes and no dropped shots on a steamy day on the Ocean Course.
The second day, though, brought a dramatic change in the conditions, as the tournament was hit by cross winds gusting up to 30mph.
Altogether 41 players failed to break 80 and the scoring average exceeded 78, the worst at the US PGA since it became a strokeplay event in 1958.
Poor Doug Wade, a club professional from Ohio, finished with a 93, 21 over and one short of the highest score in the event.
Only four players were below par on the day – Tiger Woods, Poulter and Phil Mickelson all returning 71s, while Fijian veteran Vijay Singh carded an astonishing 69. That lifted the 49-year-old triple Major champion into a share of the halfway lead on 140, four under par, with Woods and Pettersson, who had a 74.
McIlroy, meanwhile, struggled round in 75, not making a birdie until the 14th, to lie two behind in joint fifth with Welshman Jamie Donaldson, with Poulter sandwiched in between these two and the leaders on three under.
But then the Northern Irishman made his main move. Prior to a storm halting play with 26 of the 72 players still out on the course on day three, he birdied five of his first eight holes to jump into a share of the lead with Singh on six under after nine holes.
Australian Adam Scott, seemingly over his last-round Open collapse in July, was one behind, while Pettersson, who became an American citizen earlier this year, was also still in contention at four under after eight holes.
That was still the case after the third round was completed on the Sunday morning, when Pettersson was second, three shots adrift of McIlroy, and Scott was joint third with South African Trevor Immelman and American Bo Van Pelt one stroke further behind.
However, Scott slid to a 73 in his final round to finish equal 11th, while Pettersson’s challenge evaporated after he suffered a two-shot penalty on the first hole of his fourth round for moving a leaf on his backswing.
The Swede eventually finished with a 72 to come equal third with England’s Justin Rose, who matched McIlroy’s 66, defending champion Keegan Bradley, who fired a 68, and Poulter, who had a 69.
Singh, meanwhile, suffered a day he will want to forget in a hurry. He had not contended on the final day of a Major for six years and it showed as he crashed to a 74-77 return for his last two rounds to drop to equal 36th.
The surprise runner-up was unheralded Englishman David Lynn, playing in his first Major in the USA and only his second all told.
The 38-year-old capitalised on an invitation from the PGA of America to fire his second successive 68 and earn invitations to two more Majors in the USA – next year’s Masters and US PGA – as well as shooting up the world rankings to 40th and more than doubling his on-course earnings for 2012.
McIlroy, Lynn, Rose and Poulter led a virtual European takeover of the tournament, as two more Tour members finished in the top 10 – Donaldson and Sweden’s Peter Hanson, who both tied for seventh with Americans Blake Adams and Steve Stricker.
Not a bad way to close out the year’s Majors, with the Ryder Cup only seven weeks away and also taking place in the USA.