He had something Sunday. Starting at 9-under and 7 strokes behind McIlroy, Garcia cut the lead to 3 by the sixth hole. It was down to 2 by the time McIlroy left the 13th green.
Garcia finished at 15-under, tied for second with Rickie Fowler (three majors this year, three top-five finishes). Garcia didn't win, but he at least took an eraser to a reputation that has included, at times, too much whining.
When McIlroy's gimme par putt dropped on the 18th hole (he could three-putt and still win), he pumped his right fist and then threw the ball into the grandstands encircling most of the green. He hugged Fowler and then gestured for his mom, Rosie, the one who had worked extra jobs when he was growing up, to join him.
They embraced. If you looked hard, you could see Rosie clutching a tissue in her left hand. Sure, she cried. And McIlroy himself teared up later as he realized this was the first time his mother had seen him win a major in person.
What a wonderful, weird day. On the same day that McIlroy became the third-youngest player to win three majors (behind Woods and Jack Nicklaus), his former fiancée, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, won her first WTA title of the year. Red numbers overpowered the Open Championship leaderboard. And 64-year-old Tom Watson almost shot his age, settling instead for a 68.
McIlroy understands and appreciates history. He knew what this victory would mean to his résumé. He has won a major in three of the last four years. Keep it up and we'll be talking about him surpassing Nicklaus' 18 major wins.
He also knew about recent history. The past 18 months have been tumultuous for McIlroy. Changes in agents, clubs, home addresses and relationships. A lawsuit became news.
But McIlroy figured his way through it. A year ago at Muirfield he missed the Open Championship cut. On Sunday he smooched the Claret Jug.
"No, I never had doubts," he said. "You can't doubt your own ability."
Only five players have won the career Grand Slam. Phil Mickelson, owner of three majors, expects McIlroy to become the sixth.
"With his length and the way he plays and how well he plays [Augusta National], that definitely will happen and probably soon," said Mickelson. "And that just shows that he's such a complete player at such a young age."
He's a complete player because he knows how to learn from his mistakes. And from these last 18 months.
"I've really found my passion again for golf," McIlroy said. "Not that it ever dwindled, but it's what I think about when I get up in the morning. It's what I think about when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be."
As McIlroy walked from the 18th green and up the stairs to the walkway leading to the scorer's cabin, he closed his eyes and arched his neck. You could almost hear his sigh of relief.
He had survived Royal Liverpool, Garcia, the last 18 months and the expectations -- ours and, most of all, his.