Rory McIlroy heads into a week of celebration claiming his fourth major victory at just 25 topped the lot.
McIlroy, who made it two major wins in the space of three weeks at Valhalla, not to mention three tournament victories on the spin, achieved the remarkable double of starting the final round of the PGA Championship in the lead as well as coming from behind to win.
It was almost dark when McIlroy tapped in on the 18th to close a dramatic final day with a one-shot victory over Phil Mickelson. Though that was the outcome most predicted at the start of play, it was not looking likely at half way.
A one-shot advantage overnight quickly morphed into a three-shot deficit to Mickelson, Ricky Fowler and Henrik Stenson after a lacklustre front nine. His round finally ignited with an eagle at the tenth, and with the front runners suddenly feeling the squeeze, a birdie at the penultimate hole gave McIlroy a two-shot cushion going up the 18th.
“It is the most satisfying,” he said. “To win it in this fashion and this style, it means a lot. It means that I know that I can do it. I know that I can come from behind. I know that I can mix it up with the best players in the world down the stretch in a major and come out on top.
“Phil Mickelson, the second best player in this event and of his generation, to be able to beat him on the back nine on a Sunday, it’s great to have that in the memory bank and great to have in the locker going forward.”
After a delay of almost two hours to clear a sodden course of water, McIlroy was under the cosh from the gun. A course softened by more than one inch of rain was taken apart by those swinging freely behind.
Ernie Els was the first to show reeling off six birdies in 11 holes to reach 11 under par, a score briefly good enough to tie McIlroy after bogeys at the third and sixth holes. Stenson was equally impressive carding five birdies on his outward nine to reach 14 under.
In the penultimate group Mickelson opened with two birdies in three holes, and after a bogey at the second Fowler responded with a hat-trick of birdies including a chip in at the fifth.
McIlroy had no joy at all until the par-5 seventh yielded his first strike against par. And then came the glorious tenth, which McIlroy reached in two, the only player to do so all day, with a 3-wood to seven feet. He was not going to miss from there, and never looked back.
“I set myself a target walking off the 10th green. I was like, okay, let’s try to shoot 30 on this back nine. I knew there were birdies out there for me. I’ve played the back nine really well all week, probably better than anyone in the field, and I knew that.”
McIlroy punched the air with relief, before running into the arms of his caddie JP followed by his father. It was a remarkable closing sequence, and after the initial celebration he took a moment alone by the green to reflect as he waited for the ceremonials to begin.
“I guess I just crouched down to try and gather my thoughts a little bit and just think back about what has happened this summer and what a great run of golf it’s been. I’ll probably do a lot more thinking about that over the next few days.”