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Rory McIlroy wins the 2014 British Open at Hoylake

He's just 25 years old, but Rory McIlroy has already completed the third leg of a career grand slam, joining some of the greatest names in the history of the sport in the process.

Mike Ehrmann

Rory McIlroy, with a two-shot, wire-to-wire victory at the British Open on Sunday, joined Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in a select club of only three golfers to win three legs of a career grand slam before the age of 26.

McIlroy, who began the finale at Hoylake with a six-stroke lead over Rickie Fowler, shot a final-round 1-under 71 to hoist his first claret jug to go with the 2011 U.S. Open trophy and the 2012 PGA Championship Wannamaker. Sergio Garcia, tied for second with Fowler, was runner-up in a major for the fourth time in his colorful career.

Tabbed by many as the "next Tiger Woods" after his eight-shot route of the field at Congressional three years ago, McIlroy has a chance in April to become just the sixth player in history to win all four major contests.

"It would mean a lot of hype going into Augusta next year," McIlroy, who became the first European to win three separate majors, said with a laugh about the hype that will accompany his attempt to add his name to those of Nicklaus, Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Gene Sarazen. "Not a lot of people have achieved the career grand slam. And if everything goes the right way tomorrow to get to that three-quarters of the way there is some achievement by the age of 25. I’d be in pretty illustrious company."

McIlroy, who entered Sunday on the strength of three consecutive rounds in the 60s for a 54-hole total of 16-under, wasted no time in his final round in sending a very loud message to those playing catch-up by hitting driver off the first hole.

"He’s not going to lay up today," said ESPN analyst Curtis Strange after McIlroy ripped it down the middle of the fairway some 300 yards. "Good stuff, very confident."

While playing partner Fowler stuck his approach to the par-4 first, McIlroy quickly answered with one of his patented short-iron shots to about 25 feet, both players having a good look at birdie out of the gate. McIlroy went to 17-under and a 7-shot advantage when he nailed his and Fowler’s 10-foot attempt came up short.

Not a bad opening statement for McIlroy, who was not about to become the first player to cough up such a large 54-hole edge at the Open Championship.

Indeed, it was not really a fair fight against a guy who had amassed an impressive set of stats coming into the day.

The pack gave it its best, with Fowler stuffing another iron shot on No. 2 and getting one shot closer to the leader with a birdie to McIlroy’s par.

Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia, one group ahead of the marquee twosome, moved to 11-under and into a tie with Fowler with a birdie from downtown on the par-4 third. A few moments later on the same hole, and after missing the green with his second shot, McIlroy chipped to within a foot for a gimme par, while Fowler could not convert his birdie putt.

For sure, his fourth tour of Hoylake this week was not without its gut-check moments. McIlroy’s first hiccup came on the par-5 fifth, when he sloppily sprayed his second shot from the rough into even deeper gorse and needed a drop from the grandstand. His par putt slid by as he dropped a shot on the hole he had torched to the tune of three consecutive birdies and watched his earlier one-touchdown lead dwindle to four over Garcia.

"It’s just degrees and inches out here," ESPN’s Paul Azinger intoned. "Can make all the difference in the world."

A missed green on the par-3 sixth -- his third in his first seven holes -- led to a second straight bogey, and visions of McIlroy coughing up the lead at the 2011 Masters as well as the most notorious of Open chokers began dancing in every British watcher’s head, if not in Rory’s.

"His heart’s beating in his fingertips," said Azinger prior to Garcia’s par on No. 7 getting him to within three.

The Boy Wonder bounced back, whistling his tee shot past the flagstick on the par-3 ninth and making a clutch 25-foot birdie putt to make the turn with a four-shot edge over Garcia -- until his nearest challenger eagled the par-5 No. 10 to cut the advantage to a wobbly deuce.

"My palms are sweating," said Azinger.

McIlroy went back to a three-stroke lead with a tap-in birdie on 10 but dropped another stroke after losing his tee shot into the gunk on the par-3 13th and settling for a bogey. He followed up by blasting a 3-wood off the tee at 14 to keep his ball out of the nasty rally-killing stuff lining the fairway.

When Garcia needed two shots to exit a green-side pot bunker on the par-3 15th and walked away with bogey, it was all over but the scorecard-signing as, borrowing a phrase from McIlroy's ex-fiancee, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki (who won her first title of the year earlier in the day), Rory held serve. None of his errors, or the heroics from the rest of the field, was enough to keep him from the winner’s circle.

"I feel very comfortable. I was in here last night talking about I’m comfortable in this position," McIlroy said after his two-eagle, three-birdie third round of 68. "I’m comfortable sort of leading the tournament. This is the third night in a row that I’ll sleep on the lead. So I’m comfortable."

McIlroy never veered from his week-long strategy.

"Whenever you have such a big lead, you really can’t think about anyone else but yourself," he said. "You have to think about how you’re going to control your emotions. How you’re going to control whatever thoughts you have, trying to stay completely in the present and focus on what you need to do."

McIlroy, of course, was already a successful frontrunner, easily romping to each of his pair of major wins after sleeping on the 54-hole leads.

"It helps that I’ve been in this position before and I’ve been able to convert and I’ve been able to get the job done. Comfortable with the position that I’m in, but just really comfortable with my golf game. Comfortable with how I’m hitting it. Really comfortable on the greens," McIlroy said, sounding what became the theme of his Open Championship triumph. "I feel like that’s been a big help this week. And I just need to go out there tomorrow and play one more solid round and hopefully that’s enough."

It was, and Rory McIlroy is your 2014 British Open champion.