(Editor's note: This is part of a series in which GolfChannel.com staff reveal their favorite or personal moments of 2014.)
Just as his high-profile son made his way up Royal Liverpool’s third fairway on Sunday at this year’s Open Championship Gerry McIlroy flashed a nervous smile and offered some polite small talk.
How’s the family? Lovely weather. How’s your game? You know the drill, anything to fill the void and defuse the tension of the moment.
At the time, the elder McIlroy’s anxiety seemed out of place – like a two-tee start for Round 3 at the game’s oldest event, but that’s another story. Young Rory was fresh off a birdie at the first to extend his advantage, at least temporarily, to seven shots and was on his way to another signature major rout like those eight-shot boat races he enjoyed at the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
As it turns out, Gerry McIlroy’s concern was well founded.
Things would become much closer than anyone could have imagined following back-to-back bogeys by McIlroy at Nos. 5 and 6 combined with an out-of-character final-round charge by Sergio Garcia.
However, like he did on Saturday, when he eagled two of his last three holes to pull away from the field, McIlroy would birdie the 16th hole for a two-stroke cushion he would not relinquish.
It was a milestone major for McIlroy on many levels. For the first time in his young and prolific career he was pushed on a Sunday and delivered. That he did it at the Open Championship only made his triumph that much more compelling.
Just three years earlier the Northern Irishman appeared to set his own limitations following a tie for 25th at the Open Championship played at Royal St. George’s.
“I’m not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather,” he said in 2011. “My game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don't enjoy playing in really. That's the bottom line. I'd rather play when it's 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”
But it was a new McIlroy, with a more refined view of his own potential, who arrived at Hoylake. Even on the eve of the third round – when the forecast called for, as one scribe figured, “varying shades of horrendous” – the world No. 1 had a vastly different outlook.
“Whatever the weather is tomorrow I won't mind and just try and play another solid round of golf,” he said on Friday.
Saturday’s awful weather never materialized, although it likely wouldn’t have mattered the way McIlroy was playing.
The victory, which moved McIlroy within a green jacket of the career Grand Slam, would also mark the first time McIlroy’s mother, Rosie, would see her son win a major in person.
“It was just great to see her on the back of the 18th there and how much it meant to her,” McIlroy said. “I was trying not to cry at the time because she was bawling her eyes out. But it was just . . . the support of my parents has been incredible.”
As for Gerry McIlroy’s angina as his son overpowered yet another major venue, it turns out he came by his suspense honestly. Ten years ago Gerry and three friends made a £400 bet at 500-to-1 that his son would win the Open before he turned 26. McIlroy turns 26 next May.
Gerry McIlroy’s windfall was just one of many elements that culminated on Sunday with one of the loudest (non-Ryder Cup division) victory laps your scribe has ever heard and the year’s best moment.