KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Sitting behind a big, shiny silver trophy for the second time in a little more than a year, Rory McIlroy was thrilled to be halfway to the career grand slam. Beyond that, the real excitement is thinking that he is well on his way to much more than that.
McIlroy Sunday officially became a multiple major champion at 23, a feat that Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods also accomplished. What intrigues people who know and watch the young man from Northern Ireland who won the PGA Championship Sunday is that there really is no limit to where he can go from here.
They saw potential as well as dominance in his eight-stroke victory, the same margin with which he dominated the U.S. Open in June of last year. "He is only doing what he was destined to do and delivering on that," said Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion. "At this stage, people could be saying I was right when I was saying he could challenge Jack."
It is a long, long way from two major titles to Nicklaus' record 18. And after McIlroy left everyone in the dust on the Ocean Course by finishing with a 6-under-par 66 and a 275 total, there was a temptation to read too far into the future, as there had been when he ran away with the Open at Congressional. He faltered somewhat after that.
Still, the eight-stroke cushion over England's David Lynn did break a PGA record set in 1980 at Oak Hill by Nicklaus.
Just winning a second major was enough for the new PGA champion, who knows that the second one adds luster to the first. He was reminded that he had said in his pre-tournament news conference that he would grade his season so far with a "B." When he was asked to revise it Sunday night, he said, with a big smile, "A-plus.
"I think I heard Tiger say you can have a good season, but to make a good season a great season, you need a major championship," McIlroy said. "Now, I've had two great seasons in a row."
He began Sunday by finishing his rain-delayed Saturday round with a 67. In the afternoon, McIlroy saw Ian Poulter make a charge to 6 under before he had teed off at 7 under. He stayed focused: "I said, 'Look, if I can get to 12 under par, nobody is going to catch me.' And I was able to go one better than that."
McIlroy admitted to being displeased at not having done better after the U.S. Open win. He was perhaps more displeased with criticism that he was not applying himself enough and devoting too much attention to celebrity status and tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki. "To be honest, it did motivate me," said the man who received this message from Wozniacki Sunday night on Twitter: "Well done . . . unbelievable performance!!!"
McIlroy wore a bright red shirt Sunday, at the direction of his clothing company. "I thought, if I was playing with him, I wouldn't wear it," he said. "Obviously, you know who 'him' is." That would be Tiger Woods, whose trademark Sunday wear is red, a color that could not lift him above a tie for 11th Sunday.
McIlroy ended a streak of 16 majors won by 16 different golfers. Experts are confident he will win more than a few more.
"He went through a little spell this year and I think that was good for him," Woods said. "We all go through these spells in our careers. He's got all the talent in the world to do what he's doing. This is the way Rory can play. When he gets it going, it's pretty impressive to watch."