KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — It was a halogen-bright smile of joy, of disbelief and, yes, of relief, too. Rory McIlroy didn’t just separate himself from the rest of the PGA Championship field Sunday, but from his doubters.
Did you see McIlroy’s face after he snowplowed his way to his second career major? Did you see how hard he buried his head into his father Gerry’s left shoulder when they bear hugged just off the 18th green?
McIlroy knew he had done something beyond special. Now he was trying to comprehend it. After all, it’s one thing to win, but another to wrap your arms around history.
That’s what he did Sunday, make PGA Championship history. Nobody — not Jack Nicklaus, not Tiger Woods — has ever won this championship by 8 strokes. McIlroy’s victory was so complete that he would have had to take a 12 on the final hole to even force a playoff.
So he smiled. And exhaled. And closed his eyes and dropped his head back. It was as if he were trying to process the moment and cherish it at the same time.
“I allowed myself the luxury of walking up 18 knowing that I was going to win,” McIlroy said. “I enjoyed the moment, just let it all sink in.”
When he had made the walk from the fairway to the 18th green, his playing partners, Bo Van Pelt and Carl Pettersson, as well as their caddies, purposely lingered behind McIlroy. They had witnessed McIlroy’s round firsthand. They knew.
“He was just better than everybody and it was clear just — it was clear to everybody, I think,” Pettersson said.
How could it not be? McIlroy more than lapped the field. He won by eight here. He won by eight at the 2011 U.S. Open. There is no grey area in his major victories.