Reuters: Rory McIlroy underlined his superstar credentials as he repelled an early onslaught by Britain’s Ian Poulter before cruising to his second major title by a record eight shots at the PGA Championship on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman, who started the final round with a three-shot lead, needed only 23 putts on the way to a flawless six-under-par 66 that gave him a 13-under total of 275 in the year’s last major.
World number three McIlroy sank a 20-foot putt from just off the green to birdie the par-four 18th in glorious late afternoon sunshine at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, then lifted his putter skywards in celebration.
“I don’t think I have let it sink in yet but it was a great round of golf,” the mop-haired Northern Irishman said after being presented with the Wanamaker Trophy. “I am speechless.
“It’s been an incredible week. I had a good feeling about it at the start and I never imagined to do this.”
His victory margin eclipsed the previous best set by golfing great Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 PGA Championship in Oak Hill and enhanced his burgeoning status as heir apparent to former world number one Tiger Woods.
McIlroy, who clinched last year’s US Open at Congressional by a staggering eight shots, rattled up six birdies in a bogey-free display on a rain-softened layout and will regain the number one spot when the world rankings are issued on Monday.
He also became the youngest player to win two major titles since the-then 23-year-old Seve Ballesteros clinched the 1980 Masters.
“To sit up here and see this trophy and call myself a multiple major champion ... not many people have done it,” McIlroy smiled as he looked at the trophy to his right.
“I’m very privileged to join such an elite list of names,” added the Northern Irishman after ending a run of 16 majors won by different players.
Britain’s David Lynn, competing in his first PGA Championship, birdied two of the last three holes for a 68 to finish alone in second on hot and breezy afternoon at Kiawah Island.
Fellow Englishman Poulter, who briefly trimmed McIlroy’s lead to one shot after a sizzling five-birdie start, faded after the turn en route to a 69 and a tie for third at four under.
“It was a dream start. I put myself in position, which was great,” Poulter said after ending the final round with eight birdies and five bogeys. “I couldn’t ask for a better nine holes.
“It was a great day. I hit a lot of good golf shots, and it’s just a shame I couldn’t quite finish it off.”
Level with Poulter were his compatriot Justin Rose (66), Swede Carl Pettersson (72) and defending champion Keegan Bradley of the United States (68).
Pettersson, despite being slapped with a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a hazard on the first hole, responded well with three birdies in five holes before coming unstuck like so many others on the more difficult back nine.
“It made me more motivated,” Pettersson said of the penalty incurred because his clubhead touched a dry leaf during his backswing inside a hazard line.
“I got a little fired up and made some birdies in a row there. I came back. But there was only one winner today, really. Rory played great.”
Four-times champion Woods, hunting his 14th major crown but his first in over four years, had to settle for a share of 11th place at two under after signing off with a 72.
Woods, who had been tied for the lead heading into the weekend for a second time in the last three majors, said he had ultimately paid the price for a relaxed strategy going into the third round where he bogeyed four of his first eight holes.
“I was right there ... but I came out with probably the wrong attitude yesterday,” the American world number two told reporters after offsetting two birdies with two bogeys in the final round.
“And I was too relaxed, and tried to enjoy it, and that’s not how I play. I play intense and full systems go. That cost me.”
Woods, however, paid tribute to McIlroy who he has long regarded as a player of uncommon talent.
“He’s very good,” he said. “He’s got all the talent in the world to do what he’s doing. And this is the way that Rory can play. When he gets it going, it’s pretty impressive to watch.”
McIlroy never relinquished his grip on the tournament after moving three shots clear with a five-under-par 67 in the weather-delayed third round which was completed earlier on Sunday.
Though Poulter delivered early fireworks on a Kiawah layout receptive to precise approach play, McIlroy kept him at bay with birdies at the second, third and seventh before reaching the turn in three-under 33.
Further birdies followed at the 12th, where he sank a 12-footer, and at the 16th, courtesy of a six-footer, for his cushion to be padded to seven strokes.
“I set myself a target at the start of the day and said I wanted to get to 12 under par,” McIlroy said. “I got to 12 (under) and stood on the 18th tee and was seven ahead.
“I said to my caddie, ‘I’m going to win this one by eight, as well.’ I just birdied the last for good measure,” he grinned.