The margin of victory was only two in the end but that didn’t matter when Rose McIlroy walked on to the 18th green to smother the victor in motherly love. And what a boy she has.
The imperishable wreath that is the Open Championship hangs around Rory McIlroy’s neck, a three-time major champion at 25 after a final round of 71 took him to 17 under par. Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won more at the same age, which tells you where McIlroy is heading in the pantheon of golfing greats.
The threat early on came not from McIlroy’s partner in the final group, Rickie Fowler, but Sergio Garcia. When the Spaniard was really flying, there was no telling how this might end. Big leads have gone before. Ernie Els came from six back to win in 2012, Phil Mickelson from five behind last year. We can only imagine how loud McIlroy’s inner voice was chanting those key words to keep it all together.
But keep it together he did, a birdie at the 16th affording him a three-shot cushion on the 18th tee. He found the sand with his second but splashed to 10 feet and from there his name was on the Claret Jug. The tap-in for par released the habitual fist pump and Hoylake had maintained its tradition of producing high-end champions.
McIlroy joins Tiger Woods, Peter Thompson, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and J H Taylor on the Royal Liverpool honour’s board. Not a bad roll call to be a part of.
“This is the one we all want, the one we strive for,” McIlroy said in receipt of the oldest pot in golf. Looking on, Garcia, 34, saw history slip through his hands a fifth time. He must wonder if he is ever going to cross the line. Only Lee Westwood has contested more majors without success – 65 plays 63. At the same age as McIlroy, Fowler has time on his side. He thrives in this setting and, like Garcia, played a full part for his share of second, the pair two clear of Jim Furyk.
With an overnight lead of six, McIlroy was calmness itself negotiating the pre-round rituals. The cameras were on him the moment his black Range Rover pulled into the car park. Well-wishers clapped him through to the clubhouse and out the other side, where the putting- green dwellers received him in much the same manner.
Then over to the range to loosen the shoulders. Like a student on the morning of an exam, there is nothing more to learn at this stage, just a matter of staying on point, free of distraction. Fowler was the first to make his way across to the bridge leading to the first tee, his orange cap visible above the crowds.
As McIlroy followed him he would have heard the cheers echoing around the park, golfers everywhere sinking birdies. Robert Karlsson made up four shots in five holes, Adam Scott three over the same stretch.
The problem was they were too far back to shiver McIlroy’s timbers, especially after he rolled in a birdie at the first to reach 17 under and establish a seven-shot gap.
The first hint of drama came at the par-5 fifth, McIlroy’s second nestling against the grandstand requiring a free drop. The ball nestled deep in the circle of straw and took a flier coming out, scooting across the green and down into the gaping swale. The chip came up 12 feet short producing a first bogey of the day at a hole that had yielded birdies in each of the preceding three rounds.
The lead to Garcia, who opened with three birdies in five holes in the group ahead was down to four. A missed green at the par-3 sixth left an awkward chip and a six-footer for par. His rivals glimpsed an opening. Fowler rattled in a par putt from 15 feet to heap the pressure on and McIlroy’s effort duly slipped by. Two shots gone in as many holes and the lead at the start of the day halved, demonstrating how difficult it is to defend a winning position at a major once a negative spiral is engaged.
A birdie at nine stilled his beating heart, but not for long. On the tenth Garcia was holing out for an eagle to stand just two shots in arrears. To his credit McIlroy responded like a champion, finding the tenth green in two and putting for an eagle of his own. His ball reared up just inches short and he was in for birdie. The lead was back to three, but the tension showed no sign of easing.
The dynamic was helped no end by the sequencing, which required McIlroy to respond from the tee to the magic Garcia was weaving on the greens. That said, Garcia was grateful for the grandstand at the 12th, which diverted his errant approach back towards the putting surface.
Had he not hit the bleachers, it would have been goodnight from him. As it was he saved par to send another massive cheer echoing back down the fairway, where McIlroy was standing over his ball waiting to play. McIlroy responded with a laser on to the middle of the dance floor.
As he edged ever closer towards the target it was a matter of ticking off the holes. He was inches short with his birdie putt at 12. Tick. An awful swing at the par-3 13th cost him his third bogey of the round. Cross.
Could Garcia, now two behind again, make the most of the donation? Perhaps the nerves were getting to him. He was short of the green with his approach to 14, and in the sand at 15th green tight against the wall. McIlroy was watching from the tee when Garcia left his ball in there.
The resultant bogey was another huge tick in his favour. He knew then he was on his way.
Irish winners in majors
Rory McIlroy's Open triumph at Royal Liverpool continued a remarkable run of recent success for Irish golfers in major championships.
Just seven years ago, no Irish golfer had won a major since Fred Daly in the 1947 Open, but how times have changed. Starting at the 2007 Open, Padraig Harrington won three out of six and then Graeme McDowell and McIlroy - both from north of the border, like Daly - won back-to-back US Opens.
Darren Clarke followed that up by triumphing at the 2011 Open and McIlroy secured his second major with the 2012 US PGA at Kiawah Island.
Here we look back at the major triumphs:
2007 OPEN - Harrington was six behind Sergio Garcia with a round to go at Carnoustie and, after charging into contention, double bogeyed the last. Garcia, though, bogeyed it to fall into a tie and the Dubliner birdied the first extra hole, then held on. "I never let myself think I had just thrown away the Open on the 18th," he said afterwards.
2008 OPEN - Harrington, doubtful beforehand because of a wrist injury, played a brilliant back nine highlighted by an eagle on the 17th for a four-shot win over Ian Poulter at Birkdale. He became the first European to retain the title since James Braid in 1906. "It's a lot shinier than I remember," he said of the trophy he had handed back at the start of the week.
2008 US PGA - Garcia and Harrington went head to head again at Oakland Hills and the result was the same as Europe's 78-year wait for a winner of the title was ended. Harrington birdied the 17th - Garcia was closer and then missed - and a 15-footer at the last secured victory. "I'm actually disappointed I'm seven months away from the next major," Harrington said.
2010 US OPEN - Tony Jacklin was the last European winner of the trophy in 1970 and with Dustin Johnson three clear at Pebble Beach after 54 holes it did not look good again. But Johnson had an early triple and double bogey, and eventually crashed to an 82 while world number 37 McDowell held his nerve. "Careers are defined by major championships and my career's off and running today," he said.
2011 US OPEN - Two months after a closing 80 when four ahead at the Masters, McIlroy started at Congressional with a 65. From three in front he went six clear with a 66, then eight ahead with a 68, setting 36-hole and 54-hole records. No nightmare this time, though, as an eight-shot victory ensured the trophy headed straight back to Northern Ireland. "At Augusta it was all a bit new to me. I have a clear mind now," said the 22-year-old.
2011 OPEN - Clarke became the oldest winner of the Open Championship since 1967 with a brilliant final round at Royal St George's. Clarke, then 42, took a one-shot lead into the last day and repelled the challenge of American pair Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with a closing 70 in tough conditions. His five-under-par total left him three clear of Mickelson. "It's just incredible," he said. "We're blessed to have two fantastic players in Rory and G-Mac and I'm just the old man coming along behind them."
2012 US PGA - McIlroy could not repeat his wire-to-wire victory from Congressional at Kiawah Island, but the end result was the same. One off the lead after an opening 67, McIlroy slipped back with a second round of 75 but took the 54-hole lead with a 67 completed on Sunday morning after weather problems on Saturday. In the final round Ian Poulter made an early charge with six birdies in his first seven holes, but McIlroy responded with a closing 66 to win his second major title by eight shots. "It means an awful lot to look at the names on that trophy and put mine alongside them," he said.
2014 OPEN - McIlroy held off a spirited challenge from Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia to claim his third major title on a thrilling final day of the Open Championship. McIlroy took a six-shot lead over Rickie Fowler into the last round and was seven clear of Garcia, but saw that advantage cut to just two strokes as Garcia played the first 10 holes in five under par. However, the 34-year-old Spaniard crucially bogeyed the 15th to release some of the pressure and McIlroy went on to triumph. "It feels incredible. To be three legs towards the career grand slam at the age of 25 is a pretty good achievement. It's not going to sink in for a while," McIlroy said.
Graeme McDowell left green with envy
Graeme McDowell admitted he was envious of Rory McIlroy after his fellow Northern Irishman's victory at the Open Championship.
McIlroy held off the challenge of Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler to win at Royal Liverpool by two strokes and capture his third major title.
McDowell performed impressively himself on the final day, shooting a five-under-par 67 to finish in a tie for ninth on 10 under, and was frustrated not to have been challenging higher up.
The 34-year-old, winner of the US Open in 2010, told reporters: "They just asked me in there what my emotions are for Rory, as I watched him walk to the 16th tee box.
"I used the word 'jealousy,' but I think what I really meant was 'envious'.
"Envious because I'd love to walk down the 18th fairway with an opportunity to win the Claret Jug.
"I'd love it to be me. It's the greatest walk in world golf. It's in there inside me somewhere. Some year it will be my year, hopefully."
McDowell has much admiration for McIlroy's achievement, with the 25-year-old having led at Hoylake since the end of the first round.
He said: "I have a huge amount of appreciation for what he's doing and respect for what he is in the game of golf, and how good he is for the game of golf. So, great stuff."
As for his own performance, McDowell regarded the week as a good opportunity to double his major tally missed.
McDowell, who wrapped up his tournament with an eagle three at the 18th hole, said: "I said at the start of the week that this venue, it was my type of venue - not super long, not a lot of advantage for the big boys to take trouble out of play, good iron play and big flat greens where I can putt well.
"These were greens that I felt I could putt well on and did putt well on. Yes, opportunity missed but could I have caught him (McIlroy)? I don't know."
How the final day unfolded
1440 - Sergio Garcia birdies the first hole to move into joint second place as the leaders prepare to tee off.
1449 - Rory McIlroy holes from 20 feet for birdie on the first to increase his lead to seven.
1500 - Rickie Fowler responds with a birdie on the second to get back to within six shots of his playing partner.
1503 - Garcia birdies the third hole to join Fowler on 11 under.
1532 - Garcia goes through the green with his approach to the par-five fifth, but chips to two feet for birdie and gets within five of the lead.
1542 - McIlroy hits a wild approach to the fifth and a poor pitch leads to a bogey five, cutting his lead to four.
1554 - Failing to get up and down from left of the sixth green costs McIlroy another shot and cuts his lead to three.
1600 - The challengers continue to mount as Sweden's Robert Karlsson holes from just three feet for an eagle on the 10th to move 11 under.
1624 - McIlroy steadies the ship with a birdie from 15 feet on the ninth to get back to 16 under and four ahead of Garcia.
1630 - Garcia piles the pressure back on, making an eagle on the par-five 10th to close to within two of his Ryder Cup team-mate.
1637 - McIlroy has his own eagle chance from longer range but settles for a birdie to move three ahead.
1654 - Garcia's approach to the 12th flies into a grandstand but somehow rebounds out and on to the edge of the green, from where he saves par.
1714 - McIlroy mishits his tee shot to the 13th, coming up well short of the green. The resulting bogey cuts his lead to two.
1728 - Garcia takes two shots to get out of a bunker on the 15th green as McIlroy, now three ahead, watches from the tee.
1736 - Fowler birdies the 15th to join Garcia on 13 under.
1748 - Garcia two-putts the 16th to move 14 under and back within two of the lead.
1754 - McIlroy matches that birdie, on a hole he eagled on Saturday, to give himself more breathing space.
1818 - Garcia gets within two shots once more with a birdie on the 18th.
1827 - McIlroy pars the 18th to complete a closing 71 and seal victory.
Rory McIlroy: Factfile
1989: Born on May 4 in Holywood, Northern Ireland.
2005: Plays in his first professional European Tour event as a 16-year-old at The Forest of Arden. In July, shoots a course-record 61 on the Dunluce links at Royal Portrush.
2007: July - Shoots opening round of 68 in the Open at Carnoustie, the only bogey-free round of the day. Goes on to tie for 42nd and wins Silver Medal as leading amateur.
September 18 - Turns professional.
October - Finishes third in his second pro event, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The following week, he secures his card for the 2008 season by finishing joint fourth at the Open de Madrid.
2008: September 7 - Takes a four-shot lead into the final round at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland but bogeys the 18th to tie with Jean-Francois Lucquin, who goes on to win in a play-off. Finishes the season in the top 100 of the world rankings and ranked 36th on the European Tour Order of Merit.
November - Finishes second in the UBS Hong Kong Open, helping him become the youngest player ever to make the top 50 in the world rankings.
2009: February 1 - Wins first professional title at the Dubai Desert Classic by one shot from Justin Rose.
November - After finishing second to Lee Westwood in the Race to Dubai, enters the world's top 10 for the first time.
2010: May 2 - Secures first PGA Tour win with victory in the Quail Hollow Championship. His final-round 62 is a new course record. Becomes the first
player since Tiger Woods to triumph on the PGA Tour prior to his 21st birthday.
July 15 - Shoots 63 on the opening day at St Andrews to lead the Open. Rounds of 80, 68 and 69 see him finish joint third.
October 4 - Wins a crucial half point against Stewart Cink to help Europe win the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
2011: April 10 - Takes four-shot lead into final round of the Masters at Augusta but shoots a closing 80 to finish tied 15th.
June 19 - Wins US Open at Congressional by eight shots for his first major title.
2012: March 4 - Wins the Honda Classic in Florida to claim the world number one ranking, although he later loses it to Luke Donald.
June - Misses the cut in the defence of his US Open title. Finishes a lowly 60th in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham the following month.
August 12 - Lands the US PGA title at Kiawah Island, winning by eight shots.
September 30 - Having almost missed his singles match due to a timekeeping issue, McIlroy beats Keegan Bradley as Europe recover from 10-6 behind on the final day to win the Ryder Cup at Medinah.
October/November - Second place at the BMW Masters in Shanghai is followed by third place at the Barclays Singapore Open as McIlroy wins the Race to Dubai with two events remaining.
November 25 - Wins the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, beating Justin Rose by two shots after five closing birdies.
2013: January 14 - Signs a multi-year sponsorship deal with Nike, reportedly worth up to £156million.
March - Walks off course in second round of Honda Classic, telling reporters he was "not in a good place mentally". His management company later issue a statement saying he was suffering from toothache.
June - Bends a club out of shape in frustration in the final round of the US Open at Merion, finishing 41st.
July - Labels his own play as "brain dead" after missing the cut in the Open at Muirfield.
September - Sets up his own management company, Rory McIlroy Inc, prompting a legal battle with former company Horizon Sports.
December - Wins first tournament of year in Australian Open.
2014: May - Wins BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth after starting the final round seven shots behind. Five days earlier had called off wedding to Caroline Wozniacki after invitations had been sent out.
July 20 - Wins third major title by two shots in the Open, leading from start to finish at Royal Liverpool.