HOYLAKE, England - It was supposed to be a coronation march. Instead it became a long walk, although not spoiled, to the delight of Rory McIlroy.
After starting the final round of the British Open on Sunday with a lead of six strokes, McIlroy saw his margin trimmed to two by the 72nd hole. Still, that was good enough to have him announced as "The Champion Golfer of the Year."
McIlroy had his worst round of the tournament, a 1-under-par 71, but still came in with a total of 17-under 271 on the links at Royal Liverpool. Sergio Garcia, with a 66, and Rickie Fowler (67) tied for second at 15-under 273.
Jim Furyk, 44, finished fourth at 275 after a 65. Last year's winner, Phil Mickelson, was at 5-under 283. Tiger Woods, playing his first major of 2014, finished at 6-over 294, 69th of the 72 golfers who played all four rounds.
"I'm happy I gave myself enough of a cushion," McIlroy said, "because there were a lot of guys coming at me, especially Sergio and Rickie."
The win, added to McIlroy's 2011 U.S. Open romp at Congressional and 2012 PGA Championship triumph at Kiawah Island, makes him one of only three golfers (along with Woods and Jack Nicklaus) to win three majors by age 25.
"I'm immensely proud of myself," McIlroy said. "To sit here at 25 years of age and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam, yeah, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly."
First prize was $1.66 million, but for someone who a year and a half ago signed a $200-million contract with Nike, the payoff is almost incidental.
"Especially being someone from around here," McIlroy said, meaning Britain (he's from Holywood, Northern Ireland), "the Open was the one you really wanted growing up . . . It feels absolutely incredible."
Garcia, a Spaniard who is winless in 64 majors, made a great run. "I wanted to at least make him feel [pressure] a little bit," he said of McIlroy, "and see how he would respond. And he obviously responded very well."
Fowler, 25, a Californian who attended Oklahoma State, shot four rounds in the 60s (69-69-68-67). "You know," he said, "it's kind of similar to being one of the only guys in the U.S. Open under par and not win. Rory just kind of distanced himself from the field [Saturday]."
Ten years ago, McIlroy's father, Gerry, and three friends bet 400 pounds -- at 500-1 odds -- that Rory, then only 15, would win the British Open before he turned 26. The payoff will be 200,000 pounds (about $340,000 American) to be split four ways.
"The other three he did that with," Rory McIlroy said, "are going to be very happy. He never reminded me. I knew that he'd done it."
What McIlroy, the son, has done is respond to predictions that he would become a golfing great. Now he needs a Masters to become the sixth golfer to win each of the four majors.
"I've always been comfortable from tee to green at Augusta," said McIlroy, who led that tournament by four heading into Sunday in 2011 but finished with an 80, 10 shots back.
He has his wild moments. A year ago, he missed the cut in the British Open. "That was a low point," McIlroy said. "I said to myself, I'll try to make sure that never happens again. I practiced extra. It's been huge what a difference a year makes."