Rory McIlroy’s coronation came on a hot, steamy Sunday afternoon by the South Carolina coast, when, symbolically, he chose to wear the red shirt of the man he has dethroned, then put the PGA Championship field to the sword like Tiger Woods in his heyday.
And there wasn’t a thing Woods — again a shadow of a 14-time major champion, finishing 11 shots behind — could do to deny him.
Twelve years ago, when Woods stood, arms raised, on the famous 18th green at Pebble Beach at the US Open, he confirmed his reign with the most stunning of victories.
On Sunday, the ocean framed McIlroy, too, as he sank one last birdie putt on the closing hole at Kiawah Island to claim his second major and signal the dawn of the Rory era.
If there were any doubts about McIlroy, suspicions that his first major was in any way a fluke, they have been emphatically erased.
“He’s only doing what he was destined to do,” three-time major winner Padraig Harrington said.
Two majors, two virtuoso performances; this one capped with a flawless 6-under-par 66 final round at the 94th PGA Championship.
“Phenomenal,” said Carl Pettersson, who played with McIlroy and tied for third. “He was just better than everybody, and it was clear to everybody. There was only going to be one winner today.”
Just as he did during his romp at last year’s US Open, the affable 23-year-old from Northern Ireland won by a whopping eight shots and again broke records, this time eclipsing Jack Nicklaus’ seven-stroke margin of victory in the 1980 PGA.
McIlroy won’t now just be the paper No. 1 — he has reclaimed the top ranking from Luke Donald — he’ll be golf’s undisputed champion.
Like Woods, when he’s at his best, McIlroy’s a giant, standing above all the rest.
“He’s a real superstar now,” longtime mate Graeme McDowell said. “He’s going to be the player that kids look up to. Ten years ago, it was Tiger Woods.
“With a great attitude and great charisma and great character, he’s great for the game. Absolute breath of fresh air for the game of golf.”
Even Woods, who was four months older than McIlroy is now when he won his second major, tipped his hat to the young champion.
“He’s very good,” Woods said after a disappointing tie for 11th. “We all know the talent he has. When he gets it going, it’s pretty impressive to watch.”
Inevitably, the conversation now moves beyond a second major and toward history. How good will McIlroy be?
“People could be saying I was right when I was saying he could challenge Jack,” said Harrington, who last year predicted that it would be McIlroy, not Woods, who’d make a run at the Nicklaus record of 18 majors.
McIlroy has started young and, at just 23, has at least 20 more years to contend on the game’s grandest stages.
“He’s lapped the field twice now,” Harrington said. “The only person who’s ever done that in majors in my time has been Tiger.”
The relief of a second major, Harrington said, will allow McIlroy to deal better with the pressure of expectation, which has dogged him ever since he won at Congressional.
“He won the US Open last year, and he has not had an easy ride of it since then,” Harrington said. “It brings a lot of pressure with it. I think winning his second major is going to make things a lot easier for him.
“I think he’ll be a better player for winning this time around. I think he can handle that expectation now.”
McIlroy is by nature humble and wouldn’t be drawn into clichéd comparisons.
“You know, I’d love to sit up here and tell you that I’m doing to do that same thing (as Woods), but I just don’t know,” he said as he posed with the Wanamaker Trophy.
“It’s just great to be able to put my name on another major championship trophy, and looking forward to April next year and getting a crack at another one.”
Invariably, McIlroy is polite when he speaks of Woods, careful never to disparage in any way his boyhood hero. But it was telling to hear him talk about wearing a red shirt on a Sunday at a major.
The last man to wear red in a showdown with Woods at a major was Donald, and the 2006 PGA didn’t end well for the Englishman.
“I thought if I was playing with him, I wouldn’t wear it,” said McIlroy, who remembered Donald’s fate at Medinah.
“Obviously “him”, you know who “him” is.
“But I wasn’t playing with him and thought I would wear it.