Rory McIlroy proves he's worthy of a spot next to the greats
Northern Irishman is a four-time major champion in quick time, and now he wants that elusive green Masters jacket
Bobby Jones. Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods. And, now, Rory McIlroy.
He certainly does not look out of place. Joining an exclusive club in the twilight at Valhalla Golf Club, McIlroy survived his toughest test yet and proved he is worthy of a spot next to the greats.
"I was happy being a two-time major champion coming into the year," McIlroy said. "All of a sudden I'm a four-time major champion."
That is where Jones, Nicklaus and Woods come in. Until Sunday, they were the only players in the last century to win four majors at 25 or younger. McIlroy's victory in the PGA Championship also shows he is not just the ultimate front runner.
The "Boy Wonder" can come from behind, too.
Heading into the final round he was a shot ahead but by the 10th fairway he was three strokes behind with Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson breathing down his neck.
That is when McIlroy unleashed a shot to be remembered for as long as he plays the game - a three-wood from 284 yards on the par-five hole. The ball stopped seven feet from the flag to set up an eagle that got him back in the game.
"You need a bit of luck in major championships to win," he said. "And that was my lucky break."
He took the outright lead when all three of his challengers made bogey. McIlroy sealed it in the final hole for a 16-under 268 and a one-stroke victory over Mickelson. Stenson and Fowler finished two shots back.
The win gives McIlroy his second PGA Championship and fourth career major golf title. He is the first golfer to win consecutive majors in six years, matching Padraig Harrington's feat at the 2008 British Open and PGA.
Soon after lifting the Wanamaker Trophy, McIlroy set his sights on a first green jacket at the Masters in April, securing a career grand slam.
"292 days, 291 days, whatever it is," a smiling McIlroy said of the countdown to golf's first major of 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. "Not that I'm counting."
Another factor became all too clear under the fading light at Valhalla - the Northern Irishman has the potential to make fans forget about Woods especially in terms of television ratings.
"You couldn't ask for anything better," said Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media. "A close match with two top golfers and a rain delay allowing for almost two hours of prime time golf. It was compelling. Even my wife watched it."
McIlroy's triumph comes as Woods sits at home nursing an ailing back. In McIlroy, golf now has the closest thing to Woods, said Adgate. "He's Tiger Woods circa 1998," he said.
Between now and the Masters, McIlroy said he was prepared to accept the comparisons to Woods. ''You have to welcome it and I don't think you can see it as a burden," he said. "It's a great place to be in. I definitely don't have a problem with being one of the faces or if not the face of golf."
Associated Press, Bloomberg