FORMER world No1 Rory McIlroy immediately set his sights on completing a career grand slam at the Masters next year after clinching a commanding wire-to-wire Open victory at Hoylake yesterday.
McIlroy kept rivals Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler at arm’s length with a final round 71 to win by two shots and become only the third man in the modern era to win three Majors before turning 26.
The Northern Irishman hopes to add another at Augusta in eight months’ time, when he could join an elite group of five men to have claimed all four of the sport’s Majors.
“To sit here at 25 and with my third Major and be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam – I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly,” McIlroy said.
“The Open was the one I really wanted growing up, and the one I holed so many putts on the putting green to win, to beat Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, whoever.
“The more I look at this trophy the more it’ll sink in, but I’m already looking forward to driving up Magnolia Lane next year and trying to complete the grand slam at the Masters.”
Victory earned McIlroy the Claret Jug, £975,000 in prize money, plus a six-figure sum for his father and three friends, who bet on a then-15-year-old prodigy from County Down, to win the Open within a decade.
He had looked unlikely to add to his 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA Championship during an 18 months in which he changed club supplier and had a high-profile relationship, and then break-up, with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
But he looked imperious again at times at Royal Liverpool and credited his improvement with a renewed focus on and hunger for the sport.
“I’ve found my passion again for golf,” he added. “Not that it ever dwindled, but it’s what I think about when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be. And I know if I can do that, then trophies like this are within my capability. I want to win a lot more.”
Garcia shot a 66, Fowler 67 and Jim Furyk, who repeated the fourth place finish he achieved when Hoylake last staged the Open in 2006, a 65, on a day of low scores, though McIlroy was always at least two shots clear.
McIlroy started the day six ahead and gave his pursuers hope with consecutive bogeys at the sixth and seventh holes, which left him just three in front of 2007 runner-up Garcia.
The Spaniard’s eagle at 10 cut the deficit to two, but his hopes of an extraordinary comeback faded when his second at 15 found a bunker and he dropped a shot.
It was a fourth Major second place for perennial bridesmaid Garcia and a third top-five for Fowler this year alone, following his tie for fifth at the Masters and second at the US Open.
“Rickie and I tried to push him as hard as we could,” said Garcia. “He [McIlroy] responded well, because I got within two, but every time I got closer he kept making one birdie.”
World No1 Adam Scott finished tied for fifth on 11 under, while England’s Justin Rose and defending champion Phil Mickelson ended five under.
-17 McIlroy (NIR)
-15 Garcia (SPA), Fowler (USA)
-13 Furyk (USA)
-12 Leishman (AUS), Scott (AUS)
-11 Schwartzel (SA), E Molinari (ITA)