What impressed most in Rory's win?


There were a lot of questions about Rory McIlroy entering the Open Championship. He answered them all, emphatically, with a wire-to-wire win for his first Claret Jug and three-fourths of a career Grand Slam.

Now that we've figured out McIlroy can take command of a Grand Slam, stay in control, make big shots under pressure and not melt down on Fridays -- hey, it was a legitimate concern at the time -- there's a new batch of questions to ponder about McIlroy and his two closest pursuers at Royal Liverpool.

What was most impressive about McIlroy's victory at Hoylake? Did Sergio Garcia, displaying a new maturity, show he can finally win that elusive first Grand Slam? Will Rickie Fowler, who has played well enough to win the past two majors, finally break through at the PGA Championship?

Our scribes dive into those topics and more in the latest edition of Four-Ball.

1. When did Rory McIlroy lock up the Open Championship?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: On Saturday, when he eagled 16 and 18. The way he finished gave him so much confidence going into Sunday that no one was ever going to catch him.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: On Saturday, McIlroy made clutch par saves at holes 7, 9 and 13 that ensured he would keep his momentum going when he was struggling a bit with his ballstriking. Then there were the two eagles at 16 and 18 on Saturday that gave him a six-shot lead going into the final round. These moments in his third round were probably the most critical for him through his wire-to-wire victory.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: On Saturday. The eagles on two of the last three holes were the big key. A six-shot lead has never been blown at the Open. While it got interesting Sunday, that's why such a cushion is huge. Even if Garcia or Fowler had managed to go two lower, McIlroy could have played the 18th differently and made birdie to win.

Ian O'Connor, ESPNNewYork.com senior writer: McIlroy nailed down major No. 3 with his eagle at 18 on Saturday, his second in his final three holes. He won the tournament by two shots, and starting Sunday with a six-stroke lead gave him the ability to play some prevent golf.

Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: When he birdied the par-3 ninth hole Sunday. It stretched the lead to four, gave him breathing room and, most importantly, gave him confidence after a bumpy stretch in the middle of his front nine.

2. What most impressed you about Rory McIlroy's victory?

Collins: I was impressed at how calm and relaxed he stayed, even when things looked to be turning out of his favor in the middle part of his round Sunday. His demeanor and steadiness are something all golfers should aspire to on the course.

Evans: McIlroy was fearless and completely confident in his abilities to play Hoylake aggressively with the intention to make birdie on every hole. He was in complete control of his golf swing, strategy and emotions for 72 holes.

Harig: His driving. Yes, he missed fairways, but he was fearless off the tee and gave himself plenty of opportunities to go at greens.

O'Connor: He never got rattled. Even when he went bogey-bogey on Nos. 5 and 6 on Sunday, allowing Garcia and Fowler back in the ballgame, Rory never looked out of his element. He acted like he knew he was going to win all along.

Wojciechowski: He dealt with the expectations and overcame the inevitable obstacles during his final round.

3. True or false: Rickie Fowler will win a major within two years.

Collins: True. I said two years ago that he would have one by this year. Stupid Kaymer, stupid McIlroy (said in a disappointed kids' voice). Fowler has to know with his showings in the majors this year that his is coming.

Evans: True. In 2014, Fowler has finished in the top five in three majors. He has done this while going through swing tweaks with Butch Harmon. If Fowler doesn't win the PGA in a few weeks at Valhalla, he should easily capture a major in 2015.

Harig: False. Only because it's easier to say he won't win one of the next nine. He might. But a couple of close calls is no guarantee he'll win. He has three top-5 finishes this year, which is impressive, but he was not really in any of these tournaments over the final holes.

O'Connor: True. His moving tribute to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst added to the good karma around him. With three top-5s in the majors this year, Valhalla could be his breakthrough.

Wojciechowski: Who knows? Three top-5 finishes in the 2014 majors point hard at a big, fat "Yes."

4. Fact or fiction: Sergio Garcia, future major champion.

Collins: Fact. With his demons behind him and happiness at home, Garcia will win one before he's on the Champions Tour. He'll get a few there too.

Evans: Fact. At Hoylake, Garcia was poised and determined to catch McIlroy. With his combination of power and accuracy off the tee and stellar ballstriking, he should contend at all four majors. He just needs to stay mentally focused and make more putts.

Harig: Fact. Garcia has 19 top-10s in majors, and now he has four runner-up finishes. So long ago he was destined to win multiple majors. But believe it or not, he is still at the age now that Phil Mickelson was when he won his first. Garcia simply has too much talent.

O'Connor: Fiction. As I wrote the other day, Garcia is going to need a crazy turn of events to pull it off after accumulating so much major championship scar tissue over the years. It would be a great story, but one I don't see happening.

Wojciechowski: Garcia is 34, which means he still has plenty of time to win one of these things. Now that he can make clutch putts, a major is more than possible.