Rory McIlroy clinched his first Open Championship and third major title with a two-shot victory over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler on a thrilling final day at Hoylake.
The Northern Irishman joined Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three of golf’s modern majors by the age of 25.
McIlroy, 25, now just has the Masters left to complete a career Grand Slam.
Starting six clear, McIlroy fired a final-round 71 to finish 17 under as Garcia, who three times got to within two strokes, shot 66 and US Open runner-up Fowler 67.
American Jim Furyk, 44, matched his fourth place in 2006 with a 65 to end 13 under.
Players to win all four golf majors
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McIlroy added the Claret Jug – and a cheque for £975,000 – to the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA titles and became the second Northern Irishman to win the Open in four years after Darren Clarke’s victory at Royal St George’s in 2011.
Only five players have won all four majors in their career – Nicklaus, Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
“It feels incredible,” McIlroy said. “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.”
Going into Sunday’s final round, many observers suggested the tournament was McIlroy’s to lose after three days of majestic golf over the links of Royal Liverpool.
Two stunning rounds of 66 gave him a four-shot lead at halfway and banished talk of “freaky Fridays” after his recent trend of spoiling a low opening round with a bad second one. A spectacular finish to his third round, with two eagles in his last three holes, took McIlroy six clear of Fowler, with Garcia seven back, going into the final day.
Urged on by a vocal crowd, McIlroy made a birdie at the first to reach 17 under and extend his lead to seven – an ominous sign for his rivals.
But if there was a feeling that the final day would become a procession, Garcia, bidding for a first major title at the 61st attempt, had other ideas. The 34-year-old, who played in the final group with Woods when the Open was last played at Hoylake in 2006, picked up two shots in his first three holes to join Fowler at 11 under after the American had birdied the second.
A wayward approach to the right of the long fifth cost McIlroy his first shot of the day, and Garcia’s third birdie of the day minutes earlier at the same hole meant the lead was down to four.
The first stirrings of trouble for McIlroy came at the short sixth when his tee shot dribbled off the green and he missed a seven-footer for par to drop a second consecutive shot – cutting his lead to three.
He birdied the ninth to edge back four ahead of Garcia and five clear of Fowler at the turn but the drama ramped up again when Garcia, enjoying plenty of on-course support, 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 let another shot slip.
However, Garcia, who lost in a play-off to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie in 2007, made arguably his biggest mistake of the day on the short 15th when he left his ball in the bunker with his second shot and made a bogey four.
The crowd were becoming increasingly raucous, and McIlroy had to single out one offender on the 16th tee, but he held his nerve to reach the 18th with a three-shot lead over Garcia and the resurgent Fowler.
After an iron off the tee for safety, McIlroy’s second shot then found the right greenside bunker but a par five was enough to keep his rivals at bay. He pumped his first and threw his ball into the crowd before inviting his mum Rosie on to the green to celebrate with him.
“The lead never got less than two,” McIlroy added. “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.”
For Garcia, it was a third runner-up finish in a major and a 19th top 10, while Fowler recorded his third top-five in this year’s majors after finishing fifth at the Masters.
World number one Adam Scott ended 12 under, while defending champion Phil Mickelson was five under.
Woods, still chasing a 15th major title, carded 75 to finish six over in only his second tournament since March after returning from back surgery.
The 64-year-old Tom Watson, playing in what is likely to be his penultimate Open Championship before retiring at St Andrews next year, carded 68 to end one over.”That was a Carl Froch punch to a George Groves chin,” said John Inverdale on BBC 5 live when McIlroy birdied the first hole after a 300-yard drive
McIlroy suffered back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes. “Now the pressure mounts,” tweeted two-time champion Greg Norman Sergio Garcia was brilliant off the tee but a fluffed bunker shot on 15 hampered his surge to catch McIlroy
Rickie Fowler became only the third player to shoot four Open rounds of under 70 and not win – Jesper Parnevik in 1994 and Ernie Els in 1993 the other two
Despite an opening round of 69, Tiger Woods could not maintain that form and ended six over Graeme McDowell’s final-day 68 lifted him to 10 under, while Justin Rose was five shots further back