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BRITISH OPEN: McIlroy wins third major championship

by CHRISTOPHER CLAREY New York Times News Service on July 20, 2014 3:17 PM

HOYLAKE, England — In a major tournament that has often been won by veterans in recent years, Rory McIlroy put the accent back on youth Sunday.

McIlroy, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland, won his first British Open by holding off a robust challenge from Sergio García at Royal Liverpool, the elegant, venerable links course that actually lies in the nearby town of Hoylake.

The victory made McIlroy the third youngest men’s player in history to win three of the four major titles. The youngest two are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, who also happen to be the men who have won more major titles than anyone.

Nicklaus has 18. Woods, who struggled here, still has 14. McIlroy may never match the depth and breadth of their achievements, but he is clearly a talent for the ages, one who can take apart a golf course with a remarkable blend of power and touch.

But on Sunday he was a flickering flame. He started the day with a six-shot lead over Rickie Fowler after finishing with eagles on 16 and 18 in the third round Saturday.

McIlroy won his first major title at the 2011 U.S. Open by eight strokes and his second at the 2012 PGA Championship by the same margin. This would be a much nervier experience.

After a birdie on the opening hole amid roars of support from the big gallery, McIlroy led by seven strokes. But García, who was playing in the group just ahead of McIlroy and Fowler, gradually began to narrow the huge gap.

After six holes, he had cut McIlroy’s lead to three shots. After 13 holes, he had cut it to two after making an eagle on 10 and then getting quite a lucky bounce on 12 when his approach shot drifted right and bounced off the grandstand and ended up sitting just off the edge of the green. After making his par, García kissed the ball and tossed it back to the fans in the grandstand.

But after hitting into a greenside bunker on the par-3 15th, García failed to get out of the sand on his first attempt and ended up with a bogey to give McIlroy breathing room and a three-shot lead heading into the closing stretch of Royal Liverpool that he has dominated all week.

It was yet another major disappointment for García, the Spaniard who is a popular figure in Europe but who, at age 34, is still searching for a first major championship.

McIlroy, nine years younger, now lacks only the Masters to complete his collection. In 2011, he led the Masters by four shots after three rounds but failed to handle the moment, collapsing with a final-round 80.

He is clearly a better, more resilient player now and is now the second player from Northern Ireland to win the Open at Royal Liverpool, long after Fred Daly in 1947.

Copyright The New York Times News Service.

PHOTO:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland speaks while holding the Claret Jug trophy after winning the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

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