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Rory by the Shore
In a tour-de-force performance that in many ways mirrored his dominating victory in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, Rory McIlroy destroyed the field in the 94th PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C.
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman closed with a 6-under 66 for the second major title of his young career. McIlroy ended up at 13-under 275 to win by eight shots, the same margin of victory he forged in last year's U.S. Open.
The triumph on the Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course, which gained fame in the 1991 Ryder Cup - the "War by the Shore" - broke a string of 16 different winners in the last 16 majors. McIlroy also joins Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach) and Darren Clarke (2011 Open Championship) as Ulstermen with four major victories in the past two years.
"I don't think it's sunk in yet . . . I'm speechless," McIlroy said at the presentation of the Wanamaker Trophy. "I thought my putting today was phenomenal," he added in reference to needing only 24 putts in the final round.
"It's been an incredible week. I had a good feeling about it at the start. But I never imagined it to be this." When reminded about some of the golf greats on the trophy, McIlroy added, "To look at the names on that trophy and put my name beside them is something very special. I'm just going to enjoy this."
In addition to breaking the victory-margin record of seven strokes set by Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill - ironically, the site of the 2013 PGA Championship where he'll return to defend his title, McIlroy will supplant Luke Donald as the top-ranked player in the world when the new ranking comes out Monday.
McIlroy became the youngest PGA champion since the tournament was converted to stroke play in 1958. Gene Sarazen was 20 when he won his first PGA title in 1922. He's also the last player to go bogey-free in the final round en route to a major title since Phil Mickelson in the 2010 Masters.
Finishing a distant second was English journeyman David Lynn, who closed with a 68 to reach 283. Lynn's only victory of note came in 2004 in the European Tour's KLM Open.
The high finish gave Lynn a place in next year's PGA as well as the Masters. "Somebody told me it would get me back here next year, but to be honest, somebody told me that last night, but I was thinking, well, let's just go out and play, and I can't control all that sort of stuff. I've just got to play as good as I can," Lynn said.
"And I've just done an interview for Sky, and he's just said it gets you in the Masters, which is just a dream come true, obviously. If that is the case then, is it top four, so that's amazing, yeah."
Tying for third at 4-under 284 were Justin Rose (66), 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley (68), Ian Poulter (69) and 18-hole leader Carl Pettersson (72).
Both Rose and Poulter soared up the leaderboard early in the final round. Rose opened play with three straight birdies and added a couple more - against a bogey - to make the turn in 4-under 32. He then added three more birdies - and another bogey - for his fine closing effort.
"I had my foot on the accelerator, and I felt like I had a hot hand, and I was really thinking if I could finish two, three, post a number and see what happens," said Rose. "At that point it was worth a try. But very happy with my day's golf and made some putts down the stretch, which is probably what I haven't been doing of late. If I look at my last two weekends, Firestone and here, I'm feeling very good about all the tournaments I have coming up."
Rose's fellow Englishman Poulter was rolling early on too, going out in 5-under 31 off six birdies - including five straight to open the round - and a bogey. After two more birdies on his initial three holes on the back nine, the 36-year-old cooled off with four bogeys on his final six holes for a 2-over 38. "I guess it was a dream start, birdieing the first five holes, I certainly saw the first three as great birdie opportunities. And obviously to birdie 4 and 5 with two great birdies there, hitting 3 iron in, and just missed birdie on 6," said Poulter.
"And the par-5, seven, was playing short. They moved the tee up on us today. It was probably the easiest hole on the golf course today I felt. So an easy birdie there. I put myself in position, which was great. I mean, I couldn't ask for a better nine holes. Obviously birdieing 11 and 12, also pretty good, too. So put myself in position and I guess I run out of a little bit of steam coming around the turn on 13, 14, 15. I come unstuck right there. Just disappointing to bogey the last, really. It was a great day. I hit a lot of good golf shots, and it's just a shame I couldn't quite finish it off."
Though he wasn't happy with the end result, Bradley was pleased that he put up a good fight in defense of his title. "I'm playing good golf. I didn't putt very well all week," said the 26-year-old Vermont native. "If I had putted decent I think I would have been up there. But very, very proud of myself, especially shooting 77 in the second round. I battled back, bogeyed the first hole today. I felt very tired today for the first time. So I'm very proud."
On the first hole, Pettersson was assessed a two-stroke penalty because his clubhead clipped a leaf in a hazard, turning a par into a double-bogey. But the burly Swede, who started the final round three shots behind McIlroy, birdied the very next hole.
Pettersson, who now lives in Raleigh, N.C., explained the situation to reporters later. "I wasn't thinking about the leaves, but going back to Brian Davis, the more I thought about it, it was a similar ruling he had," he said. "I knew I could touch the grass. I just didn't think about the leaves. I didn't think twice about it when I hit the shot. Rules official came to me and just one of those, you know, one of those bad rules in golf. Because I didn't rest the club down. If you're in a hazard, you can actually touch the grass. You just can't put any weight on it."
Pettersson noted that the penalty, which ultimately cost him solo second place, actually got him going. "But it made me more motivated. I got a little fired up and made some birdies in a row there. I came back. There was only one winner today, really. Rory played great. I played good enough on the front nine, though. Who knows what would have happened; but Rory played great. Yeah, sucks for me, I would have finished second on my own."
Tying for seventh at 3-under 285 were Blake Adams (67), Jamie Donaldson (70), Peter Hanson (71) and Steve Stricker (71). Sharing 11th at 286 were Ben Curtis (67), Bubba Watson (68), Tim Clark (69), Geoff Ogilvy (70), McDowell (71), Tiger Woods (72) and Adam Scott (73).
Woods said his game is on the right track but he needs to focus better on closing out tournaments. "The thing is, to keep putting myself there," said the three-time winner in 2012. "I'm not going to win them all and I haven't won them all. So I certainly have lost a lot more than I've won. But the key is putting myself there each and every time, and you know, I'll start getting them again. So we got a lot of golf to be played the rest of the year, some big events coming up and the Ryder Cup at the end of it. So looking forward to that."
As for McIlroy, who Woods will be opposing in the upcoming Ryder Cup at Medinah near Chicago, Woods said, "He's very good. We all know the talent he has. He went through a little spell this year, and I think that was good for him. We all go through those spells in our careers, and you know, he's got all the talent in the world to do what he's doing. And this is the way that Rory can play. When he gets it going, it's pretty impressive to watch."
McDowell was proud of his countryman; McIlroy also won the Honda Classic in March, by two strokes over Woods. "He answered all the questions that were asked of him," said the 33-year-old McDowell. "You know, his third round was a big round of golf, to go out and shoot 3 or 4 under par, whatever he did, just to get the job done - to go out there today on this golf course extending a lead, which is always hard to do as we know, and just keep the pedal down, hit the shots, he's obviously putting well.
"I haven't had a chance to see much of his play this week, but his score speaks for itself. He's a hell of a talented player. He's had a few months off by his standards, so you could say he's back to his game."
Tying for 18th were John Daly (69), Padraig Harrington (72) and Bo Van Pelt (74). Harrington, a native Dubliner, expects greater things from McIlroy. "At this stage, people could be saying I was right when I was saying he could challenge Jack," noted the three-time major winner. "You've got to start when you're young; if you're going to win one a year, that's one each of the last two years.
"So to get to Tiger's 14 (majors) or Jack's 18, you really do have to start doing it when you're in your early 20s, because you ain't going to be winning - as good as Tiger was, he proved that you're not they don't come around as easy as people think they do. You know, it's prolific winning to win one a year, so he has another 20 years ahead of him, maybe 25 years of golf."
Daly said his game is gradually rounding into shape. "I'm slowly but surely getting more and more confidence because I'm making a lot of cuts," said the 46-year-old, who stunned the golf world by winning the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick as the ninth alternate. "Whether you play great on a weekend or bad, at least you're playing competitive. That's what I need, whether it's 15 weeks in a row, 20 weeks in a row; I've always been a guy that likes to play a lot, anyway.
"So I just feel like I've got a great rhythm. It's nice to know that if I can just make a few extra putts, maybe one or two more a round, I can be in contention."
Vijay Singh, the only player to break 70 Friday on a day with the championship's most brutal conditions at the Ocean Course, had a tough weekend. The 49-year-old followed up a 74 in the third round with a 77 Sunday afternoon to end up T-36 at 3-over 291.
But the story of this PGA Championship - the final major of the 2012 season - was, once again, the mop-haired, engaging youngster from Holywood, County Down. McIlroy's length off the tee, his aplomb in the face of stress and uncanny touch on the greens gave this likable chap yet another historic victory in America.
For complete scoring details, visit http://www.pga.com/pgachampionship/scoring/leaderboard.