McIlroy Wins U.S. Open To Capture First Major

Rory McIlroy, 22, of Northern Ireland is this year's U.S. Open champion. He won by eight shots and broke the tournament scoring record by a whopping four strokes. Renee Montagne talks to USA Today Sports Columnist Christine Brennan about the new U.S. Open Golf champion, and what drama unfolded over the weekend on one of the hardest courses of the majors.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Rory McIlroy isn't quite a household name yet, though he already is being compared to Tiger Woods. McIlroy won the U.S. Open champion in Bethesda, Maryland yesterday. It was the first major championship for the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland. USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan witnessed the triumph and joins us now from our Washington studios.

Good morning.

Ms. CHRISTINE BRENNAN (Columnist, USA Today): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So this is an historic game in a couple of ways, I do believe, beginning with the score.

Ms. BRENNAN: Absolutely right. An almost perfect performance, Renee, in a sport that doesn't lend itself to perfect performances. Rory McIlroy only had three bogies and one double bogey over four days of golf, just unheard of. He's lapped the field - 16 under par, the lowest score ever at a U.S. Open. And they've been playing these for 111 years. He set 15 records in all.

You know, he's only 5'9. He's 160 pounds. But he has a very smooth swing, a textbook swing. At 22, he's 13 and-a-half years younger than his hero Tiger Woods. But he watched him as a boy, noticed and fell in love with Tiger's intensity, the motto no lead is big enough. And then he put that into play. At Congressional he led wire to wire.

That is so difficult to do at a U.S. Open, traditionally the toughest of the four majors each year. Only the third player in U.S. Open history to shoot four rounds in the 60s. And that all led to an eight stroke victory.

MONTAGNE: And at the Masters in early April, interestingly though, McIlroy's experience was entirely different. He lost a four-stroke lead with a final round score of 80. I mean, what did he do differently this time?

Ms. BRENNAN: That's a great question. It's a fascinating study in how to self-correct - and for a 22-year-old - in two and a half months. Some wondered if he'd be scarred for some time because of his performance. His head was in his arm. He was hiding his face. It was just a total meltdown.

But he wasn't even scarred, as it turns out, for a season on the calendar. You know, all of this has been contained in spring. He spent a week, Rory McIlroy did, spent a week dissecting the trouble. He did great interviews afterwards, didn't shy away from it, dealt with it in a dignified manner. That was a big deal. And then he let it go. He said what's the big deal.

And he found out he was tentative rather than free flowing. And he said he would never play defensively again. And two and a half months later we got a chance to see that.

MONTAGNE: And Tiger Woods missed this Open with injuries to his left knee and Achilles tendon. But we've already made the comparison. It's inevitable. Tiger, Rory, Rory, Tiger, how do they compare?

Ms. BRENNAN: Well, certainly both had great early victories in their careers. Tiger Woods won the Masters at age 21 in 1997. Now Rory the youngest U.S. Open winner in 88 years. But he's no Tiger Woods. Tiger is or was a cultural phenomenon with 14 major titles. Rory's a very promising golfer with one.

But he's so much that Tiger is not, Renee. He's refreshing, approachable, grounded. I think that the sport of golf's been through a lot in the last year and a half with the personal and the professional downfall of Tiger Woods. And if McIlroy is the future of golf, I think the sport is in extremely good hands.

MONTAGNE: Well, yeah, speaking of the sort of person he is, Rory McIlroy went on a humanitarian mission to Haiti last week while other golfers were practicing for the Open. Makes his win even maybe that much more impressive.

Ms. BRENNAN: And he said the perspective he gained there in Haiti seeing how difficult it is there - of course, still, you know, he got a chance to meet children and talk to them and go to maternity wards and schools. He said that gave him the perspective that, my goodness, he gets to play a game for a living. Learning so much about himself at age 22. And the greatest thing about him, his Twitter picture it's now Rory McIlroy with a little girl from Haiti. And he said he wants to go back and see her again.

MONTAGNE: Christine, thanks very much.

Ms. BRENNAN: Renee, thank you.

MONTAGNE: Christine Brennan is USA Today's sports columnist.

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