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Record-breaking McIlroy clings on for Claret Jug

Alex Perry at Royal Liverpool
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The chasing pack sniffed around, but Rory McIlroy's 71 proved to be enough for a two-shot win © Getty Images
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On the morning of the final day of any golf tournament, those present from the media are issued a sheet entitled "Should He Win". On it, a short list of statistics for all the players beginning the fourth round with a realistic shot at winning.

On Sunday at the Open Championship, it was just one: Rory McIlroy. And it was four pages long.

It was not quite the procession everyone thought it would be. Sergio Garcia made sure of that with a six-under 66, while Rickie Fowler added to his ever-growing status as one of sport's hottest talents with a 67 to tie the Spaniard at 15-under.

McIlroy's six-shot lead he started the day with was enough of a cushion to allow himself a stumble or two in a one-under 71 before lifting his first Claret Jug in front of the thousands crammed around Royal Liverpool's magnificent grandstand arena at the 18th.

At 25 years and 77 days, he joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the three youngest players to win three of the four major championships.

But perhaps most poignantly, he becomes the first European player to achieve the feat. Not even Sir Nick Faldo or the late, great Seve Ballesteros managed it.

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And for someone who plays so little golf on this side of the Atlantic, McIlroy is also the first player to win The Open and the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, in the same year, having notched his first victory at Wentworth in May.

"Incredible," said McIlroy, needing just one word to sum up what his latest victory means to him.

He added: "Today wasn't easy, there were a few guys making runs at me. I needed to just stay in the moment. The lead never got to less than two, so I always felt comfortable. I had three shots to play with going down the the last two holes."

If McIlroy was comfortable throughout, he was not doing a good job of showing it over the front nine. Having flown out the blocks with birdie at the first to immediately stretch the lead to seven, he had his head in his hands after back-to-back bogeys at five and six - particularly with the chasing pack gathering pace.

He restored momentum with birdies at nine, 10 and 16 surrounding another dropped shot at the par-3 13th after a wayward tee shot found the fescue.

In the end it proved too much for Garcia and Fowler, the latter of whom joins Ernie Els and Jesper Parnevik as the only players to shoot four rounds in the 60s at The Open and not win it.

McIlroy could even afford to slam into the greenside bunker at the last which will have made his victory walk slightly more nervy. But he splashed out to eight feet and two-putted his way to glory.

The Northern Irishman managed to clinch one more record. "I would like to thank the fans here at Royal Liverpool who have been fantastic all week - even though I'm a Manchester United fan." And with it, became the first player to be booed during his acceptance speech.

Joking aside, McIlroy turned his attention to his next goal.

"To be three legs of the way into a career Grand Slam aged 25 feels incredible," he added, regarding the feat previously achieved by just six other players: Nicklaus, Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. "I'd be in pretty illustrious company."

And how.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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