PGA GRAND SLAM OF GOLF APPEARANCES: 2011
MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP WINS: 2011 U.S. Open
WORLDWIDE VICTORIES: 3
BIRTHDATE: May 4, 1989
BIRTHPLACE: Holywood, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
RESIDENCE: Carryduff, Northern Ireland
SPECIAL INTERESTS: Soccer, basketball, cars
TURNED PROFESSIONAL: 2007
By Leonard Shapiro, Special to PGA.com
BETHESDA, Md. -- As Rory McIlroy sat in the media center for the final interview of his remarkable week at Congressional Country Club, the U.S. Open trophy he had just won with a record 72-hole score was placed a few feet away. McIlroy couldn't resist. He pulled out his cell phone and began taking photos of the latest bauble in his burgeoning collection, and then he aimed the camera out at the audience, snapping away at several hundred journalists in the audience.
It was a refreshing display of youthful exuberance and sheer joy from a worthy 22-year-old champion who clearly had exorcised the demons from his monumental Masters collapse only two months earlier in a memorable week when he now would claim the first major championship of his career. The moppet-headed lad from Holywood, Northern Ireland, had become the latest rising star of golf, and McIlroy literally had the pictures to prove it.
His performance was simply Tiger-esque, in an event minus Tiger Woods, still recovering from left knee and Achilles tendon injuries incurred at the Masters.
McIlroy put on a breathtaking display of power golf and precise shot-making on a golf course softened considerably by heavy rain before and intermittently throughout the week. McIlroy took better advantage of those conditions than anyone else to post the lowest score (by four shots) in Open history (268), with a 16-under total that was one of 12 scoring records he set along his merry way. He also collected countless testimonials as to his golfing prowess, not to mention his potential to become one of the game's brightest luminaries.
"Nothing this kid does surprises me," said Graeme McDowell, his countryman and the 2010 U.S. Open champion. "This guy is the best I've ever seen, simple as that. He's great for golf. He's a breath of fresh air for the game. Perhaps we're ready for golf's next superstar, and maybe Rory is it."
"Rory's is different golf," said Martin Kaymer, the winner of the 2010 PGA Championship who finished 19 shots behind. "It's closer to perfect."
McIlroy had come to Congressional eager to erase the memory of that miserable Masters finish, when he held a four-shot lead after 54 holes before soaring to an ugly 80 on Sunday, tumbling down to tie for 15th place.
McIlroy, who led after seven of his last eight major championship rounds, spent a good part of the weeks since then graciously explaining that collapse and vowing that if he ever got in a similar position, he would better be able to avoid a similar calamity.
"No doubt it was a great experience for me," McIlroy said of his Masters collapse. "I knew what I had to do differently. I had a clear picture of what I had to do when I got in that position again. . . . Now I've got this (trophy) and I can concentrate on getting more of them."
McIlroy said he wanted to play aggressively, not defensively, on Sunday, and that's precisely what he did once again on Congressional's rain-softened, inviting greens, even though flagsticks were being tucked in far more difficult places than he saw over the first two days. But McIlroy clearly learned his lessons well.
"I needed to be a little more cocky, a little more arrogant on the golf course, and think a little bit more about myself," McIlroy said. "Just try to have a bit of an attitude."
His can-do attitude was obvious virtually from the start.
McIlroy opened with a 65, followed up with a 66 and then just kept his foot on the petrol all the way to an eight-shot victory over his closest, panting pursuer, 23-year-old Jason Day, who shot 68—276 for solo second, following his tie for second at the Masters. McIlroy posted a Sunday 69 that included two birdies in his first four holes, a near-miss hole-in-one at No. 10 and a four-birdie, two-bogey round.
Watching on television, Jack Nicklaus wrote of McIlroy on his website, "I like his moxie. I suppose that is the right word. I like the way he carries himself — his moxie."
"You can't beat a guy that's gone out and played as well as he has this week," said Day. "He just didn't miss a beat. I played really, really solid golf over the weekend, and I'm very happy to finish second. He lapped the field. Just phenomenal golf."
This was a week that truly began going McIlroy's way on his 26th hole, when he flew a pitching wedge into the cup from 114 yards out in the fairway to go 10 under par, only the fifth player in Open history to reach double digits under par. That clearly was a portent of grander things to come from a young man who grew up in a house about 200 yards from the first tee of the Holywood Golf Club and started swinging a plastic club as a 2-year-old, often bopping out 40-yard drives with his little stick.
McIlroy's driver was also working splendidly all week. He averaged 310 yards off the tee and even when he missed a fairway, it wasn't by much. More impressive, he led the field in greens in regulation, reaching 62 out of 72, the best mark in an Open in the three decades they've been keeping those kind of statistics.
Even more impressive, he had only one three-putt green all week, with three bogeys and one double bogey blemish on his four scorecards, all in the 60s.
On Sunday, McIlroy looked for all the world as if he was out with his mates on a weekend afternoon lark at the local country club. He hit his second shot of the day to within 8 feet of the first hole and made that birdie putt, then had a 3-footer for another birdie at the fourth. His most vigorous reaction came with a healthy fist pump when he made a 10-footer to save par at the fifth, and the rest of the way looked to be totally stress free golf for a player who never let his nearest chaser get within eight shots of the lead.
"Overall, the whole week has been incredible," McIlroy, the fifth straight international major championship winner, said on the 18th green shortly after hugging his father, Gerry, and hoisting the championship trophy. "I couldn't have asked for much more. I played great for four days and I couldn't be happier."
And he has the pictures to prove it.
Leonard Shapiro was a longtime golf writer for the Washington Post and is a past president of the Golf Writers Association of America.
This story appears courtesy of the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf Official Journal.