- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2011

The final day at the U.S. Open was much the same as the first three: A Rory Runaway.

Rory McIlroy’s cruise around Congressional Country Club culminated Sunday with an outcome seemingly assured for more than 48 hours — his first major championship.

The Northern Irishman completed his victory lap with a self-assured stroll as he was welcomed at the 18th green, an event that took on the sheen of inevitability as early as Friday morning. He then made a short par putt, offered a fist pump and embraced his father.

McIlroy finished at a record 16-under with a final round 69 to earn an eight-stroke victory over Aussie Jason Day, who did not make a bogey over his final 45 holes. Kevin Chappell, Robert Garrigus, Lee Westwood and Y.E. Yang tied for third at 6-under.

“To get my first major championship out of the way quite early in my career, especially after what happened the last couple months, it feels great,” McIlroy said. “I’m just looking forward to putting myself in the picture for hopefully many more.”

It wasn’t a record margin; it just seemed like it.

McIlroy made only three bogeys and one double bogey over 72 holes. He reached 17-under when no one in the tournament’s first 110 editions surged past 12-under.

He also extinguished any hint of vulnerability with a birdie at No. 1. No one would climb any closer than eight strokes at any point Sunday as the 22-year-old McIlroy became the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.

“This won’t be a U.S. Open that people go away thinking, ‘Well, maybe it should have been [someone else],’” said Irishman Padraig Harrington, who owns three major championships. “There’s only one winner and nobody is going to second‑guess that.”

It was, however, an Open certain to be remembered for both McIlroy’s mastery and the favorable conditions at Congressional that amplified his skill.

Indeed, in an event that yielded a combined seven totals below par in the last six years, 20 men finished under par at Congressional. After 26 of the 72 players who made the cut shot in red figures on Saturday, the course surrendered another 32 rounds of 70 or better on the final day.

USGA officials Saturday pinned the plummeting scores on weather conditions, and surely the consistent overnight rain declawed a layout almost universally praised as fair before the tournament began. In the end, it produced a record low winning total of 268 and left players at 6-under who finished 10 shots in arrears of the winner.

“I’d have asked them what they were smoking, definitely,” Garrigus said of how he would have reacted to such an outcome before the tournament. “It’s unbelievable. I shot under par every day, and if you had told me I was going to do that I might have slapped you in the face.”

It’s a context unlikely to matter when McIlroy’s gaudy numbers are referenced by posterity. And surely they will, especially since McIlroy avoided a rerun of his Masters meltdown (a final-round 80).

“I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly. I kept telling you guys that. I don’t know if you believed me or not. Here you go,” McIlroy said as he pointed to the tournament trophy.

McIlroy erased any remaining doubt Sunday. He quickly collected a birdie at the first hole (belatedly achieving his Saturday goal of reaching 15 under) and added another at No. 4.

“Once he started [off well], we were all playing for second,” Westwood said.

His lead ballooned to 10 strokes, then shrunk back to eight before McIlroy’s tee shot at No. 10 trickled back to within eight inches of the cup.

In a final display of dominance, McIlroy watched Yang fire his approach at No. 16 within four feet and then stuck his shot even closer to secure yet another birdie.

“It’s pretty spectacular what he’s done,” said Masters champ Charl Schwartzel, who shot 66 and tied for ninth at 4-under. “It looks like he’s playing a different course. “

Yang, the 2009 PGA champion, came within a stroke of becoming the sixth player in Open history to reach 10-under when he matched McIlroy’s birdie at No. 10. Trouble was, McIlroy passed that plateau 38 holes earlier and never paused.

Rather than wondering when McIlroy would break through and collect his first major, the question now pivots to just how many the boy wonder will eventually collect.

With a sweet swing, a well-rounded game, a record of contending at four consecutive majors and — especially — the promise of youth to his credit, McIlroy could be poised for a particularly remarkable career arc.

“The way he plays golf, it’s a different golf,” 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer said. “It’s close to perfect.”

This week, it effectively was.