BETHESDA, Md. - The world of golf cringed watching Rory McIlroy unravel on the final nine holes of the Masters, fearing that his young psyche would suffer irreparable harm and keep him from coping successfully with the suffocating pressure in future majors.
But McIlroy allayed the fears of viewers, including those who began watching the U.S. Open on Sunday with one eye covered, and played as if he were at home in Northern Ireland going a casual 18 with friends rather than battling in the heat of competition.
This time, McIlroy finished the deal in a major. He never showed any signs of pressure, walking the entire route at Congressional Country Club with a bounce in his step, and he left no doubt about the outcome on this historic day.
McIlroy captured the 111th national championship by eight strokes. Carding a 69, he finished with the lowest 72-hole score in Open history, 268, and his 16-under total for the tournament bettered Tiger Woods' record by four.
Which U.S. Open victory was more impressive?
Maybe the 8-stroke lead that he began the day with helped his nerves. But nothing in golf is a certainty. He entered the final round of the Masters with a 4-stroke lead and lost to the eventual winner, Charl Schwartzel, by 10. Arnold Palmer once blew a 7-shot advantage on the final nine of the 1966 Open and lost in a playoff.
On Sunday, however, McIlroy stayed aggressive and hit greens with laserlike efficiency. He never allowed anyone to get closer than 8. When he almost aced the difficult 218-yard 10th hole and tapped in for birdie, he felt he wouldn't be caught "unless I did something really, really stupid."
He also managed to leave the Augusta National debacle behind him, with no scars.
"I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly," he said. "I kept telling you [reporters] that, and I don't know if you believed me or not. I was very honest with myself. I knew what I needed to do differently. That was the thing.
"I had a clear picture in my mind what I needed to do and where my focus needed to be when I got myself in that position again. Luckily enough for me, I was able to get in that position in the major right after Augusta. To be able to finish it off the way I did, it just tells me that I learned from it and I've moved on . . . and concentrate on getting some more."
McIlroy, who turned 22 on May 4, is the youngest player to win a U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923. He also is younger than Jack Nicklaus was when the Golden Bear won his first of 18 majors. Woods was 21 when he captured his first major, the 1997 Masters.
Jason Day of Australia topped the rest of the field, shooting a solid 68 to take second at 276, a score that anyone would have taken at the start of the week. Y.E. Yang, playing with McIlroy for the second straight day, had a 71 and tied Lee Westwood, Kevin Chappell, and Robert Garrigus for third at 278.
Chappell, who tied for the day's low round with a 66, and Garrigus finished with the lowest scores by an American. The last five majors have been won by players who are not from the United States.
McIlroy had held the lead at one point of the previous three majors - after an opening-round 63 in the British Open, late in the final round at the PGA Championship, and for a vast majority of the Masters until his disastrous back nine on Sunday.
"Coming back to Augusta, I felt like that was a great opportunity to get my first major, and it obviously didn't quite work out," he said. "But to come back at the U.S. Open straight after and win, it was nice. To get one out of the way early, you can always call yourself a major champion."
The birdie at 10, and another at 16, got McIlroy to 17-under, the most strokes under par ever in an Open. He dropped a shot at 17 with his only three-putt of the week. When he tapped in for par at 18, he calmly pumped his fist; left the green; and hugged his father, Gerry.
"There's a lot of joy and there's quite a bit of relief as well," he said. "More joy, though. I knew most of the field was going to have a hard time to catch up to the score I was on. I'm very happy to win the U.S. Open, and to win it in a bit of style as well is always nice."