KIAWAH ISLAND —At 6:31 p.m. Sunday, Tiger Woods walked off the Ocean Course's 18th green without even a glance at the Wanamaker Trophy, on a pedestal 10 feet to his right.
Twenty-three minutes later, Rory McIlroy sank the last of six birdie putts to win the trophy as a sun-burned throng of fans ringing the 18th shouted “Rory! Rory! Rory!”
If not a changing of the guard — Tiger's era may be long past, or just in intermission — the moment certainly was validation for golf's newest superstar.
McIlroy, the 23-year-old from Holywood, Northern Ireland, obliterated one of the best fields in golf and slayed Pete Dye's monster of an Ocean course, firing a bogey-free 66 to win the 94th PGA Championship by a record eight shots.
“Greatest round I've ever seen anyone play,” CBS announcer David Feherty gushed to anyone in sight as McIlroy hugged his father, Gerry, outside the scoring hut.
“He didn't give anybody even the vaguest squeak at it, and on a course where any one shot can assassinate you.”
McIlroy finished at 13-under-par, eight shots better than England's David Lynn, to win his second major championship and $1.445 million.
The numbers were solid — 9 of 14 fairways, 10 of 18 greens in regulation, 23 putts — but didn't fully explain the new maturity of McIroy's play.
“Rory had it in his hands today,” said Aussie Adam Scott, who finished tied for 11th. “He put it out of everyone's reach.”
“It was a magnificent performance,” said Rory's caddy, J.P. Fitzgerald. “Very special performance, really.”
For young Rory, it was sweet redemption. He's taken some heat for his epic collapse at this year's Masters — he shot 80 in the final round to blow a four-shot lead — and a jet-set relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki that critics said hurt his game.
“Yeah, I don't think I could have answered that in any better way,” said McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open by eight shots, but had not finished higher than T-25 in his last five majors. “And it did motivate me. I did want to go out there and prove a few people wrong. That's what I did.”
With Sunday's victory, McIlroy returned to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and has won two majors by 23, the same age as Tiger when he won the second of his 14 majors.
For McIlroy's peers, this dominant performance proved what they already knew.
“He answered all the questions that were asked of him,” said countryman Graeme McDowell, who tied for 11th with Woods at 2-under. “He's going to be the player that kids measure their own wanna-be games by. Ten years ago, it was Tiger Woods. It still is Tiger Woods to a certain extent, but now we've got superstars like Rory for kids to be looking at.
“Great attitude, great charisma, great character. Absolute breath of fresh air for the game of golf.”
McIlroy said he applied lessons learned at the Masters. After finishing off the delayed third round in the morning with a 67 to take a three-shot lead, he set a target score of 12-under for the final round.
“I didn't set a target at Augusta,” he said. “That was one of the things I should have done. I thought if I would get to 12 (today), it would mean someone would have to come out of the pack to shoot 8 or 9-under, which I didn't think was possible.”
By the time McIlroy reached 12-under, with a birdie on the par-5 16th, the challengers had fallen back.
Ian Poulter, who opened five straight birdies and got to minus-7, bogeyed three straight holes on the back nine to finish tied for third. Carl Pettersson took a cruel 2-shot penalty on the opening hole and battled back with three birdies in four holes, but ran out of steam.
Woods, seeking his 15th major, was only the third-best player in red Sunday, behind Rory and defending PGA champ Keegan Bradley, who tied for third. Woods was undone by three bogeys in seven holes during Saturday's interrupted third round. On Sunday, he narrowly missed early eagle and birdie putts before he began spraying the ball on the back nine, posting a 72 to finish at -2.
“I was too relaxed, I tried to enjoy it, and that's not how I play,” is how Woods explained his Saturday struggles.
By the time McIlroy reached the 18th green Sunday, the stage was his. Fans ducked under the rope line to circle the 18th, and roared when he dropped a 20-foot birdie putt. He took off his hat, ran his hand through his dark curls and looked up at the ocean-blue sky.
It was a scene McIlroy could see coming, from the moment he found his locker in the Ocean Course clubhouse last Monday
“My locker was right by the window,” he said. “I could see the putting green and the beach and the ocean. I said to J.P and my dad, something about this just feels right.”
How right he was.