A year on from labelling his own play “brain dead”, Rory McIlroy spoke of his pride at winning the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on Sunday and immediately targeted more major glory.
Missing the cut at Muirfield last year prompted McIlroy to make a withering assessment of his own game as he looked a shadow of the player who had won the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA Championship.
But 12 months on the 25-year-old has his hands on the Claret Jug and is just one step away from winning the career grand slam after holding off a spirited challenge from Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia.
“It feels absolutely incredible,” said McIlroy, who saw his six-shot overnight lead cut to two on four occasions before sealing victory with a closing 71. “It’s cool that they put your name on there even before you get it.
“It’s been an incredible week. I’m happy I gave myself enough of a cushion today, because there was a lot of guys coming at me, especially Sergio and Rickie (Fowler). Just to be sitting here and looking at this thing and having my name on it, it’s a great feeling. It obviously hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m going to enjoy it and let it sink in tonight in the company of my friends and family.”
“I’m immensely proud of myself. To sit here 25 years of age and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to the career grand slam, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly.
“The Open Championship was the one you really wanted growing up, and the one you holed so many putts on the putting green to win, to beat Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, whatever.”
McIlroy’s two-shot win over Garcia and Fowler makes him the first European player to win three different majors since the Masters was founded in 1934 and the third player after Woods and Jack Nicklaus to win three majors by the age of 25.
He believes he has the ambition to attempt to match the achievements of Woods and Nicklaus, who have won 14 and 18 majors respectively.
“I definitely hope so,” McIlroy said. “I’ve really found my passion again for golf. Not that it ever dwindled, but it’s what I think about when I get up in the morning. It’s what I think about when I go to bed.
“I just want to be the best golfer that I can be. And I know if I can do that, then trophies like this are within my capability. I’d love to win a lot more and am really looking forward to - even though there’s still one major left this year that I want to desperately try and win - to next April and trying to complete the career grand slam.
“Golf is looking to someone to put their hand up and try to dominate and I want to be that person. I want be to be the guy that goes on and wins majors and wins majors regularly. I feel like there’s a lot more left in me.”
McIlroy revealed he would look to copy 2013 champion Phil Mickelson by drinking top quality red wine out of the Claret Jug - at least initially - and also why he had a heckler removed from the crowd on the 16th hole.
“He was giving me grief all day, actually,” McIlroy said.
“I sort of put up with it for the first 15 holes and then he deliberately coughed on my downswing on the 16th tee.
“I still hit a great drive but I heard it halfway down and I knew who it was. So I turned around and got him chucked out, thankfully.”