KIAWAH ISLAND — When Rory McIlroys clothing sponsor sent his ensemble for the week, it included a red shirt for Sundays final round of the 94th PGA Championship at Kiawah Islands Ocean Course.
The significance wasnt lost on the young Northern Irishman.
Red is, after all, Tiger Woods unwavering color for Sundays. Luke Donald wore a red shirt while paired with Woods in the final round of the 2006 PGA Championship and was drubbed by six strokes by the 14-time major champion.
McIlroy didnt shy away from the clothing selection. Instead, he welcomed it, and with it he accepted the designation of the games best player that others have attempted to ordain upon him.
McIlroy effectively ended any debate over the No. 1 player in the world with his second eight-stroke victory in a major championship in 14 months.
I wasnt playing with him and thought I would wear it, McIlroy said. I might have to do it from now on. No wonder he wins so much.
The win had more to do with McIlroys dominant game than his shirt selection. He took a three-stroke lead into the final round and stretched it to eight with a bogey-free 6-under-par 66 for a 13-under 275 total on a course regarded as one of the most difficult in the United States.
I dont really care if I win by one or if I win by eight. I just want to win and I was able to do that today, McIlroy said. Of course, it is nice to be able to have the luxury of knowing that youre going to win with a few holes to go. . . . I enjoyed the moment, just let it all sink in.
The win comes 14 months after McIlroy waxed the field by eight shots in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.
The margin of victory breaks Jack Nicklaus PGA Championship record set in 1980 at Oak Hill Country Club by a shot. McIlroy also unseats Woods as the second-youngest winner of two major titles.
Nicklaus was a month younger than McIlroy, who is 23 years and 3 months old, when he won the second of his 18 majors. Woods was four months older when he won the 1999 PGA Championship.
Hes a real superstar now, said 2010 U.S. Open champion and fellow Northern Ireland native Graeme McDowell. I mean with great attitude, great charisma and great character. Thats it in a nutshell. Hes great for the game.
McIlroy never gave Woods or his other challengers any true hope once the final round started, making birdies on two of the first three holes and playing bogey-free throughout the afternoon.
McIlroy was able to use knowledge gained from his victory at Congressional for his benefit Sunday, but relied even more on his painful finish two months prior at last years Masters, when he took a lead to the final nine holes but tearfully collapsed en route to a final-round 80.
Today I drew from past experiences, what I did wrong at the Masters and what I did right at Congressional, and I put them all together in one package, McIlroy said. [The Masters collapse] was a huge turning point in my career. I needed that day to learn what I needed to do in those situations.
Carl Pettersson began the final round three shots back and in second, but was felled by a two-stroke penalty on the first hole when he moved a leaf in his backswing while in a red-staked area of wetlands. He learned of the penalty on the fourth tee box and went on to tie for third. Englishman David Lynns 68 moved him into second at 5-under 283.
Woods began the final round five strokes back and never made a run, tying for 11th at 2-under 286. Ian Poulter was McIlroys only threat for a short time.
Poulter made five consecutive birdies to start his round to reach 6 under for the tournament and pull within a shot of McIlroys lead. His longest putt among the birdie putts was about 24 feet, as he was stuffing irons close to the hole.
He finally missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the sixth hole, and settled for a birdie on the seventh when he narrowly missed a 15-foot eagle putt to reach 7 under and remain within two of the lead.
By the time McIlroy reached the fourth hole at 9 under, only Poulter at 6 under was within five shots. But Poulter kept the pressure on through the 12th hole, making a birdie on the par-5 11th and par-4 12th, where he challenged the water on the right with the pin on that side of the green and holed a 10-foot putt.
McIlroy appeared in trouble with a wayward drive on the 10th, but he got up and down with a tap-in for par and Poulter faltered on the 13th, pulling his approach shot into sand well to the left of the hole and missing a 14-foot par putt to fall to 7 under and three off McIlroys pace.
It was the first of three consecutive bogeys for Poulter, and McIlroy all but secured the title with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole that got him to 11 under and opened up a six-shot lead.
I guess it was a dream start, birdieing the first five holes, Poulter said. . . . So I put myself in position and I guess I ran out of a little bit of steam coming around the turn on 13, 14, 15. I came unstuck right there. Its just a shame I couldnt quite finish it off.
McIlroy took his cap off walking down the 18th fairway, rubbed his hands through his scruffy and sweaty curls and looked both to the sky and at the masses applauding his triumph.
I set myself a target," McIlroy said. "I said, 'Look if get to 12-under par, nobody is going to catch me,' and I was able to go one better than that. Just an incredible day.
It didnt matter whether or not his 20-foot birdie putt found the bottom of the 18th cup, but it only seemed apropos that it did. I got to 12 [under] and stood on the 18th tee and was seven ahead and I said to [caddie] JP [Fitzgerald], Im going to win this one by eight, as well," McIlroy said. "I just birdied the last for good measure.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.