Saving his bright red shirt for Sunday in the PGA Championship, McIlroy never gave anyone much of a chance. Two exquisite shots with the wedge set up back-to-back birdies to seize control of the final round. He never made a bogey over the final 23 holes of his marathon day.
McIlroy validated his eight-shot win at the U.S. Open last year by blowing away the field at Kiawah Island, making the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros to win two majors. Tiger Woods was about four months older than McIlroy when he won his second major.
"I think I heard Tiger say, `You can have a good season, but to make a good season a great season, you need a major championship,"' said McIlroy, who returned to No. 1 in the world. "Now I've had two great seasons in a row no matter what happens from here in now. Hopefully, I can play some great golf from now until the end of the year and get myself ready for another great season next year, too."
Standing on the 18th tee with a seven-shot lead, McIlroy turned to caddie J.P. Fitzgerald and said, "I'm going to win this one by eight, as well."
McIlroy rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt, raising the putter in his left hand as the ball rolled true to the center of the cup, saving enough strength to lift the heavy Wanamaker Trophy after another command performance in a major championship.
He shattered the scoring record at the U.S. Open. He broke Jack Nicklaus' record in the PGA Championship for margin of victory.
McIlroy took the lead for good Sunday morning with back-to-back birdies on the back nine to finish a rain-delayed third round at 67 for a three-shot lead. No one got closer than two shots at any point in the final round, and that last birdie gave McIlroy a 6-under 66.
David Lynn, a 38-year-old from England who was playing in America for the first time, won the B-flight. He closed with a 68 and was the runner-up.
Woods, who shared the 36-hole lead for the second time this year in a major, was never a serious factor. He tossed away his chances Saturday before the storm blew in and never could get closer than four shots. He closed with a 72, failing to break par on the weekend in any of the four majors for the first time in his career.
McIlroy was 13 shots better than Woods over the last two rounds.
"It was a great round of golf. I'm speechless," McIlroy said after hoisting the trophy. "It's just been incredible. I had a good feeling about it at the start. I never imagined to do this."
Winning the final major the year ends what had been a tumultuous season for McIlroy. Despite winning the Honda Classic in early March and going to No. 1 for the first time in his career, he went into a tail spin by missing four cuts over five tournaments as questions swirled that his romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was hurting his game.
Instead, McIlroy put a big hurt on the strongest field of the year.
"I was a little frustrated with how I was playing earlier on in the year, but a few people in this room were probably pushing panic buttons for no reason," McIlroy said. "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."
Woods predicted greatness for McIlroy when he first came to America at 19.
"He's very good. We all know the talent he has," Woods said. "He went through a little spell this year, and I think that was good for him. We all go through those spells in our careers. He's got all the talent in the world to do what he's doing. And this is the way that Rory can play. When he gets it going, it's pretty impressive to watch."
McIlroy finished on 13-under 275.
Ian Poulter put up the stiffest challenge, though not for long. Poulter, who started the final round six shots behind, made six birdies through seven holes to get within two shots. He made three straight bogeys on the back nine and had to settle for a 69. He tied for third at 4-under 284, along with Justin Rose (66) and defending champion Keegan Bradley (68).
In the final qualifying event for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, nothing changed.
Phil Mickelson was holding down the eighth and final spot, and he stayed there when neither Bo Van Pelt nor Steve Stricker could make a move on the back nine. Davis Love III will announce four captains' picks in three weeks.
McIlroy was tied for the lead with Vijay Singh when they returned Sunday. Twenty-seven holes later, McIlroy had no peer in the final major of the year.
When he won the U.S. Open last year, Padraig Harrington suggested that perhaps McIlroy -- not Woods -- might be the one to challenge the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus. That looked like nothing more than one Irishman boosting another when McIlroy didn't come close in the next five majors.
"I think winning his second major is going to make things a lot easier for him," Harrington said. "I think last year he proved it, but there's been ups and downs since his last major win because of the pressure and the expectations and the hype. Now he's delivered again. It's going to be a lot easier for him going forward. And he'll get better."
Woods won his second major in his 12th try as a pro. McIlroy won his second in his 16th major.
"It's tough to say that Rory is a Tiger Woods type player," said Graeme McDowell, McIlroy's closest friend on tour. "Tiger Woods is a once-in-a-lifetime player, and Rory is at least a once-in-a-decade type player. He's that good. ... He's going to be a superstar of game, which he already is. But he's a real superstar now."
McIlroy went out in 33, saving par with a 10-foot putt on the ninth hole. That's what Woods used to do in the majors.
Poulter's birdie on the par-5 11th hole closed the gap to two shots, but not for long. From the sandy area short of the 10th green, McIlroy blasted out and closed his eyes when the wind blew sand into his face. He never saw the ball check a foot from the cup. And with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 12th, there was no stopping him.
The win ends a streak of the last 16 majors going to 16 different winners. McIlroy joined Woods, Harrington and Mickelson as the only players to win majors in consecutive years over the last two decades.
Carl Pettersson tried to put up a good fight, though he suffered a setback on the first hole without even realizing it.
The Swede drove just inside a red hazard line. He checked to make sure his club could touch the grass without grounding the club. That part was fine. However, PGA rules officials determined after scrutinizing a video replay that a small leaf that moved as Pettersson took back the club. That violates Rule 13-4c -- moving a loose impediment while in a hazard -- and three holes later he was informed it was a two-shot penalty. The par became a double bogey.
Pettersson responded with back-to-back birdies. By then, it was too late for Pettersson, really too late for anybody.
McIlroy might have won this major before breakfast.
He was among 26 players who had to return Sunday morning, playing the back nine to finish the storm-delayed third round. Tied with Vijay Singh at 6-under par, McIlroy missed two short birdie chances, and then made bogey on the 13th. He rebounded with birdies on the 15th and 16th, a tough bunker save on the 17th and a closing par for a 67 that gave him a three-shot lead.
Not once during the final round did the kid look like he was going to lose this one.
After going back to his island home for breakfast, a quick nap and a change of clothes -- a bright red shirt, no less -- McIlroy looked solid as ever. After pulling his approach on the par-5 second hole under a tree, he hit wedge off the wood chips to 6 feet for birdie. He came up just short of the green at No. 3, where the tees were moved up to play 293 yards, and hit an even better flip wedge to a tiny target on an elevated green. McIlroy holed a 15-foot birdie putt, and he was on his way.
As for the shirt?
McIlroy was planning to wear red, but only if he wasn't playing with Woods. He remembers Luke Donald in a red shirt while tied with Woods in the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah, which Woods won by five shots.
"I wasn't playing with him and thought I would wear it," McIlroy said. "Might have to do it from now on. No wonder he wins so much."
Woods stepped into a cactus while hitting out of the dunes on the 15th hole in the morning, and his day got even more painful from there. He has gone 14 majors since winning his last one, No. 14, at the 2008 U.S. Open. He looks to be closer, with three PGA Tour wins this year and two 36-hole leads in the majors.
His regret when it was over -- he tied for 11th -- was all about attitude.
"I came out with the probably the wrong attitude yesterday," he said. "And I was too relaxed, and tried to enjoy it, and that's now how I play. I play intense and full systems go. That cost me."
It might not have mattered.
McIlroy said earlier in the week that he only wanted to give himself a chance, to feel that buzz of being in contention in the final round. He wound up putting the buzz back into golf, a sport in which all the talk has been about parity. McIlroy's name on the leaderboard means something.
"Rory is showing that with his `A' game, everybody else is going to struggle to compete with him," Harrington said. "And Tiger needs his `A' game to come up against Rory. ... If Rory is playing as well as he is, Tiger is not going to pick a major off unless he's got his `A' game out there."
McIlroy is the sixth-youngest player to win two majors. The others were Young Tom Morris, John McDermott, Gene Sarazen, Nicklaus and Ballesteros. McIlroy set himself apart in one measure. He has won two majors by a combined 16 shots.