Rory McIlroy joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players since the 1930s to win their third major golf title by age 25 when he finished off his wire-to-wire victory Sunday in the 143rd British Open championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.
McIlroy, who started the day with a six-stroke lead over 25-year-old American Rickie Fowler, didn’t run away from the field as many expected. While a vast majority of golfers on Sunday shot well below par, the Northern Ireland star struggled early and returned to even par for the day with a birdie at No. 9 before he worked his way to a one-under-par 71 to finish the tournament at 17-under 271.
Sergio Garcia of Spain became McIlroy’s first challenger Sunday with birdies at Nos. 1, 3 and 5 to move to within two strokes of the lead after McIlroy had bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes. Garcia birdied the par-five 16th and 18th holes to finish with a six-under 66 and tie for second at 15 under with Fowler.
“It’s pretty hard to describe right now, to be honest,” McIlroy said in a television interview when asked about his victory. “All I know is that I won my third major championship and I’m, you know, three legs into the four towards a career Grand Slam at age 25. I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
Fowler, who parred eight of the first 10 holes, had back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th holes to move to within two strokes of the lead as well, but McIlroy birdied the par-five 16th to open a three-shot lead. Fowler birdied No. 18 as well to card a five-under 67. It was his third consecutive top-five finish in a major this year.
American Jim Furyk finished fourth at 13 under after tying for low round of the day at seven-under 65. Australian Marc Leishman also shot a 65 to finish in a tie for fifth at 12 under with countryman Adam Scott, who had a final-round 66.
Nicklaus, who has a record 18 victories in Grand Slam tournaments, won his fourth major at age 25, the 1963 Masters.
Woods, who won his 14th and last major at the 2008 U.S. Open, won the 2001 Masters for his sixth major title at 25.
McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship, said he was at ease on the back nine when his lead was cut to two strokes.
“To be honest ... just keep going about my business,” he said of what was in his mind. “I knew that I was playing well, it wasn’t like ... I made a little hiccup there on five, six and seven, but I was able to right the ship right there. The birdie on 10 was big .... and then I knew Sergio was getting pretty close, but I knew I still had the par-fives coming up on the back nine, which gave me a little bit of peace of mind knowing that I could make a four on one or two of them and keep the lead at what it was.”