Even before Rory McIlroy trotted on to the first tee to defend his whopping six-shot lead heading into the final round of the 143rd Open Championship, the pundits and punters had been drooling like bloodhounds in a sauna as they feverishly predicted the kind of hand-waving cavalcade that good old Queen Lizzie occasionally enjoys.
They got it . . . eventually.
There were moments of nail-nibbling but, come the last few holes, it seemed that McIlroy was serenely floating around the links and lapping up the adulation like golfing royalty on a sedan chair. Fat ladies were belting out songs long before he reached the 18th and even when his approach to the last plunged into the bunker they were still warbling in full cry. No wonder. He almost holed his subsequent shot from the sand for an eagle and left himself with the comfort of three putts from 10-feet to win it. He took two of them.
Master McIlroy was the master and this colossal conquest, packed full with all the hallmarks of a truly great champion, brought this remarkable young Northern Irishman a first Claret Jug. It will surely be the first of many. On the course where Tiger Woods swatted everyone aside eight years ago, McIlroy underlined his billing as the new superstar of this new era for golf.
On a compelling Open Sunday, the 25-year-old illuminated his majesty with a brave, spirited display of front-running golf to complete a wire-to-wire victory. A closing one-under 71, for a 17-under 271, put the tin lid on a two-shot triumph over the gallant Sergio Garcia and the tenacious Rickie Fowler. Mum came on to the green for a celebratory cuddle. Dad, Gerry, meanwhile, gave the boy a hearty squeeze and was probably last seen charging down to the bookies to pick up the winnings of the 500-1 bet he and his pals stuck on 10 years ago that McIlroy would win an Open within a decade.
Rory was the big winner, though. Having already ticked off the US Open and the US PGA Championship, McIlroy is just a Masters win away from the career grand slam. He now joins Woods and Jack Nicklaus as one of only three players to have won three different majors by the age of 25. He was probably the first Open champion to be booed at the prize giving, mind you. Mentioning you're a Manchester United fan in these parts tends to go down like a sack of spanners. It was all good-natured stuff and McIlroy's beam was as wide as the Mersey as he wrapped his hands around this cherished lump of silverware.
A year after glumly missing the cut in the Open at Muirfield, McIlroy was the champion golfer of 2014. "That was a real low point in my career and when I missed the cut there I said to myself I never want to experience that again," he said. "I've found my passion for golf again. It's what I think about in the morning and what I think about when I got to bed. I just want to be the best I can be.
"I've said it before but golf is looking for someone to put their hand up [and dominate]. I want to be that guy. I've had chances to kick on but after this I really want to think ahead and move forward and win as many majors as I can. I feel there's a lot more left in me."
Tom Watson, that wild old campaigner who has seen it, done and probably has his garret stuffed with a variety of t-shirts, cast his vastly experienced eye over affairs as the leading group meandered to the first tee. "As far as the leader is concerned, you just have to avoid the land mines, and there's a lot of them out there," he warned.
McIlroy has plenty of weapons stashed in his armoury, of course. He unleashed the heavy artillery on the first, and bombed a huge drive away which led to a birdie.
It was a shuddering opening salvo. Cue the victory march? Not quite. A ghastly second shot into the fifth, clattered the stand Rory McIlroy pumps his fist to acknowledge the putt which confirmed him as the Open champion. Picture: Getty Sport and led to an ugly bogey. It seemed to spook him for a spell and when he missed a five-footer for par on the next his commanding lead suddenly appeared vulnerable.
An excellent up-and-down from the bunker for par on seven steadied the ship and a birdie on nine was crucial. The fist pump confirmed that.
Up ahead, though, Garcia was mounting a charge. The Spaniard, who has slithered out of the running in so many majors when the pressure has mounted and drifted away the last time the Open was at Hoylake, eagled the 10th to get to within two shots. When his wayward approach to the 12th bounced out of the grandstand and back to the fringe of the green, there was feeling that maybe, just maybe the golfing gods were finally smiling down on this major-less matador. A McIlroy bogey on 12 kept the lead at just two but Garcia's hopes were bunkered when he took two swipes to extricate himself from the sand on the par-3 15th and he leaked a sloppy, costly shot.
McIlroy was almost home and hosed. Even an irritating halfwit in the crowd, "who had been giving me grief all day" and was eventually ejected, could not disrupt his drive to glory on the par-5 16th. A nerveless, booming belt of some 360 yards left him with just an 8-iron in and he duly birdied. "I felt that settled the championship," he said.
Garcia, pushing "as hard as I could", finished with birdies at 16 and 18 in a 66. Fowler, meanwhile, birdied three of his last four in a 67 to become only the third player in history not to win an Open despite shooting four rounds in the 60s. Jim Furyk hurtled in with a 65 to take fourth on his own. No one was going to catch McIlroy, though.
The Claret Jug was his. "It's sort of cool that they put your name on there even before you get it," he said with wide-eyed wonderment.
Such was McIlroy's majesty here at Hoylake, the engraver probably chiselled it on to the trophy on Saturday night.