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McIlroy back at top with record-setting win at PGA

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to his victory after the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Kiawah Island, S.C., Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to his victory after the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Kiawah Island, S.C., Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
By Noah Trister
AP Sports Writer / August 13, 2012
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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C.—Rory McIlroy hit off wood chips and out of sand. He even stuck one shot in a tree branch -- and went on to make par like it was no big deal.

By the time the PGA Championship was over, he was in a class by himself.

"On 18, I was just taking the whole thing in," McIlroy said. "I allowed myself the luxury of walking up 18 knowing that I was going to win. I enjoyed the moment, just let it all sink in."

Another major championship masterpiece for the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with seemingly unlimited potential.

From the start of the weekend, McIlroy looked like the man to beat at Kiawah Island, and nobody came close. He won Sunday by a record eight strokes, with a flair and charisma that could turn him into golf's next star.

Remember all that talk about how no lead is safe in 2012? McIlroy was in front the entire final round.

"I set myself a target," he said. "I said, `Look, if I get to 12 under par, nobody is going to catch me.'"

He was at 12 under when he walked toward the 18th green with a seven-shot lead, but a par there would have been anticlimactic. Instead, McIlroy rolled in a 25-foot birdie -- and in the process surpassed the PGA Championship record for margin of victory that Jack Nicklaus set in 1980.

McIlroy returned to No. 1 in the world and became the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros to win two majors. Tiger Woods was about four months older than McIlroy when he won his second major.

"He's very good," Woods said. "We all know the talent he has. He went through a little spell this year, and I think that was good for him. We all go through those spells in our careers, and he's got all the talent in the world to do what he's doing. This is the way that Rory can play. When he gets it going, it's pretty impressive to watch."

McIlroy shot a 6-under 66 in the final round to finish at 13-under 275.

McIlroy won last year's U.S. Open by the same eight-shot margin, but after winning the Honda Classic this March, he went into a tailspin by missing four cuts over five tournaments. Questions swirled about whether his romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was hurting his game.

"I don't think I could have answered it in any better way," he said. "To be honest, it did motivate me. I did want to go out there and prove a few people wrong."

McIlroy seized control with back-to-back birdies Sunday morning to complete the storm-delayed third round with a 67 and build a three-shot lead. He closed out a remarkable week by playing bogey-free over the final 23 holes on the demanding Ocean Course.

"I think winning his second major is going to make things a lot easier for him," Padraig Harrington said. "I think last year he proved it, but there's been ups and downs since his last major win because of the pressure and the expectations and the hype. Now he's delivered again. It's going to be a lot easier for him going forward. And he'll get better."

David Lynn, a 38-year-old from England who was playing in the United States for the first time, was the runner-up, closing with a 68.

McIlroy's win ends a streak of the last 16 majors going to 16 different winners -- a stretch that coincided with Woods' drought in golf's biggest tournaments. Woods hasn't won a major since 2008. He shared the lead after 36 holes at Kiawah Island but finished tied for 11th.

If there was a signature moment for McIlroy over the weekend, it might have been Saturday when his tee shot lodged in a thick tree branch on the third hole. He found it with help from the TV crew, took his penalty drop and fired a wedge into 6 feet to save par.

There were more highlights Sunday.

After pulling his approach on the par-5 second hole under a tree, he hit wedge off the wood chips to 6 feet for the first of two straight birdies.

On No. 10, McIlroy blasted out from a sandy area just short of the green. The ball checked a foot from the cup, giving him an easy par.

In last month's British Open, Adam Scott lost a four-shot lead in the final four holes. McIlroy, however, closed strong.

The only reason it wasn't an even earlier blowout was because Ian Poulter, who started the final round six shots behind, made six birdies through seven holes. He faltered with three straight bogeys on the back nine and had to settle for a 69.

For much of the back nine, McIlroy was competing only with his own lofty standards -- and in the end, with Nicklaus' record.

"It's nice to break a record like that, especially of Jack Nicklaus, who is the most successful player of all-time so far," McIlroy said. "Yeah, it's a nice achievement."

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