KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Twenty-one years ago the golf world came to this spit of land along the South Carolina coast and produced the war by the shore. Far less dramatic, but no less impressive, was the show from Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course two decades later.
This time we witnessed the Ror by the shore. Tears shed once again throughout Europe, joyful for a change, not the painful kind from losing the 1991 Ryder Cup.
Rory McIlroy capped a memorable week and a marathon day with one final birdie on the 18th hole, the perfect touch to his masterpiece from the 94th PGA Championship. Leaving no doubt who the best player here was, McIlroy won his second major championship convincingly, blowing open a tournament that in a span of 12 hours went from free-for-all to rout.
When McIlroy woke up Sunday morning, he was tied for the lead. When he woke up again — he retreated for a short nap once his weather-delayed third round was finished, since he had more than three hours until his final-round tee time — he was ahead by three shots. When his head finally hit the pillow Sunday night (or Monday morning), he was celebrating an eight-shot victory.
“Just an incredible day. To sit up here and see this trophy and call myself a multiple major champion, I know I’ve talked about it in the past, and not many people have done it,’’ McIlroy said, sitting next to the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy. “I’m very privileged to join such an elite list of names.’’
At 23, McIlroy is the youngest PGA champion since the tournament switched to stroke play in 1958, and never before had someone captured the PGA by that kind of margin; Jack Nicklaus owned the old mark, winning the 1980 tournament by seven strokes. McIlroy made it eight by playing 27 near-flawless holes on Sunday: Cleaning up a third-round 67 that gave him the lead, then extending it by sprinting to a final-round 66, without a bogey on the card.
McIlroy’s 13-under par total only seemed to be a mile in front of the field. David Lynn, a 38-year-old Englishman playing in just his second major championship, shot 68 in the final round to surprisingly grab second. Keegan Bradley (68), trying to win the PGA for the second straight year, tied Justin Rose (66), Ian Poulter (69), and Carl Pettersson (72) for third. Tiger Woods shot a final-round 72 and tied for 11th, never breaking par on the weekend of a major championship in 2012.
The streak of 16 straight different major winners? Over, since McIlroy captured the 2011 US Open — also by eight strokes. The trend of 54-hole leaders not going on to win? Bucked. Big time.
Golf also has a new top-ranked player in the world, McIlroy becoming the first to claim the No. 1 spot by winning a major since Woods at the 2005 Masters.
Down on himself with his major efforts since rolling last year at Congressional — no finish better than 25th in the next five — McIlroy put in play the lessons learned from the two majors he was best known for: the 2011 Masters that got away, and the 2011 US Open that was his all the way.
“I set myself a target. I said if I get to 12 under, nobody is going to catch me,’’ McIlroy said. “And I was able to go one better than that.’’
Not that his Sunday stroll was easy. Poulter pushed him by opening his final round with five consecutive birdies, quickly pulling within two. Still ahead by two and playing the ninth hole, McIlroy made two monster par saves on the next two holes: Knocking in an 8-foot putt at the ninth, and blasting out from the sand to less than a foot on No. 10.
Less than 10 minutes later, Poulter would make the first of three straight bogeys starting at No. 13, that gave McIlroy some extra space. Three birdies coming in — a 12-footer on No. 12, a 6-footer on No. 16, and a 15-footer as the sun was starting to set at the 18th — provided some punctuation, and another celebratory hug from his father, Gerry.
Pettersson, playing in the final threesome with McIlroy, might have been closer if not for a two-stroke penalty he received for an infraction on No. 1. It proved costly; without it, he would have finished solo second.
“It made me more motivated. I came back,’’ said Pettersson, who was told of the decision while leaving the fourth tee, then birdied Nos. 4, 5, and 7. “There was only one winner today, really. Rory played great. He was just better than everybody. It was clear.’’
Suddenly, McIlroy is on top again. It comes at a good time, with the Ryder Cup fast approaching. Next month’s matches in Chicago are a team game, though. Sunday was a day of personal achievement.
“I think I heard Tiger say, ‘You can have a good season, but to make a good season a great season, you need a major championship,’ ’’ McIlroy said. “Now I’ve had two great seasons in a row, no matter what happens from here. Hopefully I can get myself ready for another great season next year, too.’’