The Open: Rory McIlroy sets sights on domination
Rory McIlroy hailed his Open Championship victory as the highpoint of his career so far and said he wanted to be the next great player to dominate golf.
McIlroy fired a 71 for a 17-under par total to claim his third major crown at Hoylake by two shots from Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.
Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won more at the age of 25 and he became just the 10th player to record a wire-to-wire victory in the history of The Open.
McIlroy's victory means five of the last 19 Majors (26.3%) have been won by golfers from Northern Ireland (population 1.81m), confirming something astonishing is going on in golf in this country.
The champion arrived back in Northern Ireland on Monday afternoon, with Belfast City Airport tweeting pictures of him stepping off the plane with the Claret Jug.
"It feels absolutely incredible," he said. "It's sort of cool that they put your name on there (the Claret Jug) even before you get it. So that was a nice little touch. It's been an incredible week. I'm happy I gave myself enough of a cushion, because there was a lot of guys coming at me.
"Just to be sitting here and looking at this thing and having my name on it, it's a great feeling."
The only sour note was the eviction of a fan, who had been heckling McIlroy all day. After one shout too many, McIlroy pointed out the offender to a steward and he was evicted.
"He was giving me grief all day. I put up with it for the first 15 holes, and then he deliberately coughed on my downswing on the 16th tee.
"I still hit a great drive. But I heard it halfway down and I knew who it was. So I turned around and got him chucked out, thankfully."
His mother, Rosie, watching him win a Major for the first time, was the first to greet him on the 18th green after the winning putt dropped.
"It was just great to see her on the back of the 18th, how much it meant to her. I was trying not to cry at the time because she was bawling her eyes out."
The next Major, the US PGA, is three weeks away. He already has his eye on that even before the celebrations at Hoylake are done. "I want be to be the guy who wins Majors regularly, wins tournaments. I'd love to be in that position."
Open Championship joint runner-up Fowler has no doubt McIlroy will complete the career grand slam with a Masters title.
However, the American – who has finished in the top five at all this year's Majors – insists just because his fellow 25-year-old is now at the top of his game it does not mean the end of an era for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
With 14 and five Majors respectively, that pair have been the two stand-out players of the last decade but Fowler believes it is too early to write them off.
But he is confident McIlroy will elevate himself into the stratosphere they occupy by winning at Augusta to complete a clean sweep, having won the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA.
"I really don't have any doubt that he'll win there," said Fowler.
"I don't see any reason why he's not going to win there. It definitely fits his game. It's hard to say that there's really any course that doesn't suit him when he's on his game and I've seen him play very well there.
"It's just a matter of time but it would be nice if I can get that one before he does.
"We've been here for a few years. Rory is obviously doing well with three majors now. I have some catching up to do but I am getting closer.
"It's been fun to be in contention at the majors this year but as far as a changing of the guard I don't see Tiger and Phil and some of those guys running off anywhere.
"We're ready to go to battle against them, though."
Fowler did very little wrong in the final round playing alongside McIlroy but while the Northern Irishman was able to find birdies seemingly just when he needed them his American rival had just two in 14 holes.
He found some form too late with three birdies in his last four holes to close with a five-under round of 67 but McIlroy coasted home to win by two as Fowler was left to rue another near miss this year.
"It's kind of similar to being one of the only guys at the US Open to be under par and not win," he added.
"It was a great week there as well and the same here, Rory just kind of distanced himself from the field a bit.
"It's hard to be disappointed about it because it was such a great week and with the way I had been playing in the majors there was some pressure to play well this week.
"But with how comfortable I've been it doesn't feel like a big stage. It feels like I should be here. I'm definitely pleased with it.
"There's plenty more to come. I'll take 15-under in a lot of majors and sit there and wait in the clubhouse.
"Congratulations to Rory. He played awesome and it was just kind of fun to throw a few shots at him coming in. To see him win was pretty cool."
For Garcia it was more disappointment after coming close on five occasions.
"It's difficult when you're in a situation where you know you can't make a mistake. It just puts that little extra pressure. So many good things happened throughout this week. And even today I got a couple of really good breaks. It was close," said the Spaniard.
"At least I'm proud of the way I played. I wanted to at least make him (McIlroy) feel it a little bit and see how he would respond. And he obviously responded well. There was someone a little better."