HOYLAKE, England — On a closing Sunday of great golf at the 143rd British Open, played over the picturesque Royal Liverpool links near the Irish Sea, champion Rory McIlroy did what he had to while everybody else went low.
McIlroy shot 71, and it was low enough.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland won by two shots, collecting his third major title and thrilling his fans in the United Kingdom.
His 71 on the par-72 course wrapped up a run of 66-66-68-71 and effectively held veteran challenger Sergio Garcia and rising star Rickie Fowler at bay all day.
McIlroy’s was one of only two scores in the final top 10 not in the 60s. Victor Dubuisson shot 70 and shared ninth.
“I’m happy that I gave myself enough cushion,” McIlroy said, “because there were a lot of guys coming at me, especially Sergio and Rickie.”
Those two shared second at 15-under 273. Garcia closed with a 66, Fowler with a 67.
Right behind in fourth was veteran Jim Furyk, a former U.S. Open champion, who shared honors for low score of the day at 65. Marc Leishman shot the same and finished at 276 to tie for seventh, and Shane Lowry also had a 65 and shared ninth at 278.
Others going low on yet another unseasonably mild day with low wind were former Masters champion and world No. 1 Adam Scott with a 66 for 276, former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel with a 67 for 277, Edoardo Molinari with a 68 for 277 and former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell with a 67 for 278.
But it was McIlroy with the big smile and the claret jug afterward.
“It feels absolutely incredible,” he said. “It’s sort of cool that they put your name on it even before you get it.”
The engraver had a bit of a break this time. McIlroy entered the final round with a six-shot lead.
He even overcame a rowdy spectator who pushed the young Irishman’s patience over the edge on the 16th hole.
“He was giving me grief all day, actually,” McIlroy said. “And I sort of put up with it for the first 15 holes, and then he deliberately coughed in my backswing 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 and got him chucked, thankfully.”
The spectator was last seen surrounded by policemen, who were accompanying him elsewhere.
McIlroy was last seen tapping in a two-inch putt for the victory, which added the British title to his U.S. Open (2011) and PGA Championship (2012). He joined Tiger Woods, a 14-time major winner who is looking for more, and Jack Nicklaus, who holds the record with 18 major championships, as the only golfers to win three major titles by age 25.
Garcia twice cut the six-stroke lead to two but lost any real chance of catching McIlroy when he left a shot in a greenside pot bunker on the 15th hole.
“Obviously, 15 was a mistake,” Garcia said. “But like I said before, when you know you can’t make a mistake, it’s hard.”
Fowler said his friend McIlroy avoided the pressure of a close finish by playing the right way.
“He drove it well all day,” Fowler said, “and didn’t really put much pressure on himself. Once he drove it in the fairway on No. 16 and gave himself an easy birdie there, it was going to be tough to catch him.”
It was Fowler’s second straight runner-up finish in a major. He was second to runaway winner Martin Kaymer in last month’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Fowler is the only player with top-five finishes in all three majors this year. Asked about his emotions after this one, Fowler pointed to the biggest plus.
“Two words: Ryder Cup,” he said.
He will be a lock for captain Tom Watson’s team for the match against Europe in October in Scotland.
Two players not yet a lock are the two most prominent for the U.S., Woods and Phil Mickelson. Each will need substantial points from the PGA Championship on Aug. 7-10 at Valhalla in Lousiville, Ky. Otherwise, they can make the team among Watson’s three captain’s picks.
Both Woods and Mickelson made the cut at Royal Liverpool. Woods had a closing 75 for 294, which was, interestingly, five shots worse than Watson’s final score. The 64-year-old Watson closed with a 4-under 68.
Mickelson, the defending champion, also finished with a 4-under 68 and shared 23rd.