CHARLOTTE, N.C. – All the buzz about Rory McIlroy came to life Sunday at the Quail Hollow Championship with one dazzling shot after another in a record round that made him the PGA Tour’s youngest winner since Tiger Woods.
Explosive as ever, the 20-year-old from Northern Ireland was 5 under over the final five holes to set the course record at 10-under 62 and win by four shots over Masters champion Phil Mickelson.
McIlroy finished in style, rolling in a 40-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and thrusting his fist into the air.
“I suppose I got into the zone,” said McIlroy, who celebrates his 21st birthday on Tuesday. “I hadn’t realized I was going in 9, 10 under. I just know I got my nose in front and I was just trying to stay there.”
McIlroy delivered an awesome display of skill that left two-time major champion Angel Cabrera in his wake and thrilled thousands of fans on a steamy day at Quail Hollow.
With a one-shot lead, McIlroy hit a 5-iron from 207 yards up the hill to 3 feet for eagle on the 15th. From a fairway bunker on the 16th, he hit 7-iron to 5 feet for another birdie. Then came the finish, when he knocked in a 40-foot putt that made fans leap from their chairs and had made McIlroy’s freckled-face burst with joy.
He finished at 15-under 273 and won $1.17 million.
Woods, who missed the cut this week, was 20 years and 10 months when he won his first PGA Tour event in Las Vegas in 1996.
Mickelson was in the hunt until he had to play a right-handed shot from the woods on the 10th hole and made bogey. When he got around to making a charge, McIlroy already was too far ahead. Mickelson closed with a 68, which he figured would be good enough to win.
The roars he heard ahead of him told him otherwise.
“I’ve got to congratulate Rory,” Mickelson said. “He played some incredible golf. He’s an amazing talent. You knew he was going to come out and win out here. He is some kind of player.”
Cabrera was tied for the lead with eight holes to play until his putter failed him. The former Masters and U.S. Open champion missed five putts inside 10 feet on the back nine and shot 68.
Billy Mayfair, who had a two-shot lead going into the final round, lost the lead by hitting into the water on the par-5 seventh for a double bogey and closed with a 76.
McIlroy becomes the first player since Chris Couch at New Orleans in 2006 to make the cut on the number and win the tournament. McIlroy was two over the cut line on Friday with three holes to play until making an eagle on the seventh hole. He followed with a 66 on Saturday to get back in the hunt, then blew everyone away with a round that ranks among the best.
The previous course record at Quail Hollow was 64.
Padraig Harrington of Ireland closed with a 68 and hung around for two hours to congratulate the kid when he finished. He was growing concerned for McIlroy, under enormous pressure since turning pro when he was 18.
He won the Dubai Desert Classic last year at 19 and nearly won the Order of Merit. McIlroy had been struggling this year with lower back problems, alarming for someone so young. He had missed two cuts going into Quail Hollow, and had not had a top 10 since the first week of February.
“At home, no matter how he does, the focus is on him,” Harrington said. “When you’re not winning, not delivering, the focus becomes a burden. If he can get across the line here, he can go from strength to strength. He will be a lot more comfortable with who he is, a lot more patient. The win is significant – very significant – at this time.”
He crossed the line at full speed.
McIlroy shot a 128 on the weekend at Quail Hollow, considered one of the toughest tracks on the PGA Tour.
Everything was going his way.
“It’s been a crazy ride until this point,” McIlroy said. “I’m just delighted to get here. To get my first win in the U.S. is special.”