LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Rory McIlroy is in his sunset years, looking back on what is now becoming a historic career, he will have a special place in his memory for the day -- and night -- that he beat the field and dusk to win a remarkable 2014 PGA Championship.
With the sun long gone and clouds darkening the strange scene on the final hole even more Sunday, McIlroy shone. The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland made par, completing his comeback from a three-stroke deficit to win his fourth career major and second in a row, and in the process burnished his stamp as the player of his era.
"He's better than everyone else right now. Yeah, he's good. Really good," said Phil Mickelson, one of the golfers on a star-filled leader board.
He was on the 11th at Valhalla Golf Club when McIlroy hit a 284-yard shot to the 10th green that turned the championship. McIlroy made eagle and drew within a shot of Rickie Fowler.
Mickelson and Fowler also had a front-row seat on the 18th green when, in an effort to complete the round after a 1-hour, 54-minute rain delay, tournament officials allowed McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger to hit their approach shots before Mickelson and Fowler putted.
McIlroy had a two-shot lead at the time and Mickelson and Fowler each had a chance to tie by chipping in or putting in for eagle, respectively. As it turned out, Mickelson birdied for a 5-under-par 66 to finish at 15 under and Fowler (68) made par to end at 14 under, tied for third with Henrik Stenson (66). When McIlroy (68) blasted out of a bunker and two-putted for par to finish at 16-under 268, he gave one last fist pump for securing the Wanamaker Trophy.
"I actually want to thank Phil and Rickie for letting us play up. That showed a lot of sportsmanship and a lot of class," McIlroy said.
Actually, Mickelson did not seem pleased at the time. But he later said, "It didn't affect the outcome of the championship at all, I don't think. It's not a big deal either way."
The 44-year-old five-time major winner explained that normally on the PGA Tour, when darkness is looming, a group that already has hit allows the group behind to hit tee shots. That gives the trailing group the option of finishing the hole if the horn blows to suspend play. Mickelson and Fowler did that, then officials ordered the approach shots.
"This is the PGA, we only do this once a year. It gave everybody a chance to finish," said Mickelson, who had to finish his 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol on a Monday morning because of a weather stoppage the previous day.
With visibility very limited, McIlroy had the option to mark his ball and come back to finish his round Monday morning. He acknowledged that depth perception was a problem on his bunker shot on the final hole, but he was not tempted to postpone anything.
"No, I wanted to win this thing," he said after becoming the third youngest in the modern era to win four majors, behind Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
It all happened because of that pivotal 284-yard 3-wood shot on No. 10. McIlroy always will remember that, too, for one reason:
"It was lucky," he said. "The ball flight was probably 30 feet lower than I intended and the line of the shot was probably around 15 yards left of where I intended."
But overall, McIlroy is no fluke. Sunday's performance continued a stretch of dominance not seen since Woods' heyday. McIlroy won the British Open last month, then last week recovered from a three-shot deficit in the final round to take the prestigious WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
"Amazing. Incredible," he said. "I'm not sure I'll ever have another summer like this."
But he showed in the light of day and in the gloaming Sunday that another summer like this would not be a surprise.