McIlroy blitzes field as Irish trio celebrate Canada high
Rory McIlroy banished his final-group blues in fine style as a stunning round of 61 earned him a seven-shot Canadian Open success on a day to remember for the Irish contingent.
While two closing bogeys in his last three holes denied him a chance to card a famous 59, the Holywood star was simply breathtaking at times as he tore the field apart in Hamilton, with Shane Lowry tied for second on 15-under - alongside American Webb Simpson - and Graeme McDowell five shots further back in a tie for eighth.
McIlroy turned in five-under 30 after birdies at the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 7th before a run of four successive birdies from the 11th to the 14th had the Ontario crowd at fever pitch.
Bogeys at the 16th and 18th sandwiched a superb eagle at 17, but it mattered little in the grand scheme of things as the world No 4 hit top form just days out from the US Open at Pebble Beach.
"Obviously this is a huge tournament to win, I'm very proud of myself," a beaming McIlroy said after winning his second title of the season following success at The Players Championship in March.
"But going forward for this season, to play the way I did in a final round like this, I'm going to take a lot from this and I'm excited for next week,"
While the 30-year-old has registered top-10 finishes in 10 of his 13 official starts this season, he has failed to fire on quite a few Sundays when in contention, which made yesterday's victory even sweeter.
"I said from the start I wanted to be aggressive. I played with so much freedom on Saturday and I just wanted to keep that going today.
"Tied for the lead going out and playing with that freedom, it gives me so much confidence."
McDowell breathed a huge sigh of relief as he watched his 30-foot par putt on the 18th drop, to secure his place at the Open Championship next month.
As welcome as the top-10 finish was for the 39-year-old, securing a spot in the final Major of the year in his home town of Portrush, with a couple of weeks to spare, meant a whole lot more.
"It's been an interesting debate on social media, there are a lot of people out there who certainly don't think that I deserve to get special exemptions from the R&A," McDowell said after finishing on 10-under-par.
"Once I realised that was probably not going to be an option, it was a case of getting my head down and playing some golf.
"I knew coming into this run of RBC Canadian Open, US Open and Scottish Open that there were spots up for grabs, but I have to be honest it's really nice to get the job done the first week because it means I can really go and enjoy my golf for the next few weeks.
"It's going to be a very special week at the Open Championship, obviously in my home town of Portrush, so I'm obviously ecstatic to be in the field."
McDowell came in to this week knowing that a top-10 finish would likely get him the coveted spot, but mentally he admitted it was a much more difficult challenge than his usual Thursday-Sunday battles.
"It's actually more difficult than trying to win a golf tournament because you are trying to chase this ghost of… you don't know if guys are going low.
"I wasn't really studying the leaderboard, you don't know who is in exemption-wise, you don't know who is already exempt.
"It was difficult to keep my focus. I birdied 12 and 13 to get me going and tried my best to mess it up on 17 and 18. I missed the fairway on 17, I knew it was a huge tee-shot, missed the fairway and didn't make birdie.
"Then I missed the fairway on the last and I thought, 'Uh oh'.
"I chipped it 30 feet by the hole but I liked the look of the putt and it was nice to see it go in.
"I kind of thought two putts might do it but I wasn't sure. But that was a nice way to do it."
Offaly man Lowry (32) also continued to build on his solid season, carding a three-under 67.