The Travelers Championship is one of the tournaments on the schedule that nearly always delivers drama, and this year was no different.
The Open 2014: Rory McIlroy wins third major title
The 2014 Open Championship swept to a close on Sunday in stunning fashion as Rory McIlroy claimed his third major title with a two-shot victory over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler at Hoylake.
McIlroy joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three of golf’s modern major events by the age of 25. The Northern Irishman, 25, only has The Masters left to complete a career Grand Slam.
Beginning the day six clear, McIlroy fired a final-round 71 to finish 17 under as Garcia – who found himself within two strokes of the lead on three occasions – shot a 66 alongside USA’s Rickie Fowler to finish joint runner-up on 67.
American Jim Furyk, 44, was able to match his fourth-place finish in 2006 with an impressive 65 to end 13 under.
One to go
McIlroy added the famous Claret Jug to his trophy cabinet as well as a cheque for £975,000 – placing it alongside the 2011 US Open trophy and 2012 US PGA titles to become the second players from Northern Ireland to win The Open in four years after Darren Clarke’s victory at Royal George’s in 2011.
Only five players in history have won all four majors in their career: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
"It feels incredible," McIlroy told BBC Sport. "It wasn't easy - there were a few guys making runs at me and I just needed to stay focused. To win three legs of the Grand Slam at 25 is a pretty big achievement."
Although not favourite heading into the event, by the time Sunday’s final round rolled around much of the watching spectators believed the tournament was now McIlroy’s to lose after three days of near-perfect golf on the links of Royal Liverpool.
Two exceptional rounds of 66 gave him a four-shot lead at the halfway stage to wash away talk of “freaky Friday’s” after his recent trend of ruining a low opening round with a poor second one.
There was a wonderful finish to the third round in which he struck two eagles in his last three holes to go six clear of Fowler, while Garcia remained seven back as the trio headed into the final day.
The crowd were vocal throughout and urged the players on as McIlroy made a birdie at the first to reach 17 under and extend his lead to seven. However, Garcia, bidding to become a major winner for the first time at the 61st attempt, was loathe to allow his chances to slip away so easily.
The Spaniard, 34, picked up two shots in his first three holes to draw level with Fowler at 11 under after the orange-clad Cobra player had birdied the second.
The revival of Garcia and willingness of Fowler seemed to be getting to McIlroy as a wayward approach to the right of the long fifth cost him his first shot of the day. Garcia had hit a third birdie of the day just minutes earlier at the same hole, meaning the lead was suddenly cut to four.
More trouble seemed to be brewing for McIlroy at the short sixth when his tee shot dribbled off the green and he then missed a seven-footer for par to drop a second consecutive shot – his lead now cut to three.
Gathering his composure, McIlroy then birdied the ninth to edge back to four ahead of Garcia and five clear of Fowler at the turn. But it wasn’t long before the drama was notched up again when Garcia, who had garnered plenty of support from the fans in attendance, eagled the par-five 10th to get within two.
McIlroy nudged three clear with a birdie of his own, only to find thick rough to the left of the short 13th and allow another shot to slip. But it was Garcia who made the biggest personal blunder of the day when he reached the short 15th, leaving his ball in the bunker with his second shot and making a bogey four.
The crowd were growing in excitement and McIlroy decided to single out one of the more raucous spectators on the 16th tee, although it didn’t affect his nerves as he reached 18 with a three-shot lead over the brave Garcia and battling Fowler.
An iron off the tee for safety from McIlroy was followed by a second shot in which he found the right greenside bunker, but a par five was enough to keep his closest rivals at bay. He pumped his fist and threw his ball into the crowd before inviting his mum Rosie onto the green to celebrate with him.
"The lead never got less than two," McIlroy said. "I always felt I had that little bit of a cushion. I knew I had some holes where I could make birdie and 16 was the real hole for me which I think settled the championship.
"This is the first major my mum has been to that I've won, so mum, this one's for you. I just can't wait to get back and defend this thing at St Andrews next year."
Some sympathy needed to go out for Garcia, who was forced to settle for a third runner-up finish in a major and a 19th top 10, while Rickie Fowler recorded his third top-five in this year’s major events after finishing fifth at The Masters.
Elsewhere, World No.1 Adam Scott ended 12 under after an underwhelming performance, while defending champion Phil Mickelson finished five under.
Tiger Woods is still chasing a 15th major title after carding 75 to finish six over in only his second tournament since March.
64-year-old Tom Watson, playing what is very likely his penultimate Open Championship before retiring at St Andrews next year, carded 68 to end one over.
Open Championship final leaderboard
-17: Rory McIlroy (NI)
-15: Sergio Garcia (Spa), Rickie Fowler (US)
-13: Jim Furyk (US)
-12: Marc Leishman (Aus), Adam Scott (Aus)
-11: Charl Schwartzel (SA), Edoardo Molinari (Ita)
-10: Shane Lowry (Ire), Graeme McDowell (NI), Victor Dubuisson (Fra) -8: Stephen Gallagher (Sco), David Howell (Eng); -5: Phil Mickelson (US), Justin Rose (Eng); +1: Tom Watson (US); +6 Tiger Woods (US)