June 20, 2011 -- Rory McIlroy made history on Sunday, becoming the youngest U.S. Open champion in almost a century.
By almost every statistical measure, McIlroy's triumph at Maryland's Congressional Country Club was one of the great performances in golf history. The baby-faced 22-year-old from Northern Ireland did something almost impossible on the course: he made golf look easy.
But that is not why McIlroy is beaming today in photographs beneath newspaper headlines across the globe.
Just two months back, the young pro suffered what many thought could be a confidence shattering round on the final day of the Masters.
McIlroy started off the Masters strong, taking the lead after the first day of the first of the sport's four major tournaments. He was the youngest player in history to lead the Masters at the end of the first day, and held the lead going into the final round. But then disaster struck.
He shot the worst round in history by any professional leading the pack after the third day of the competition, finishing up with an 80.
"Rory McIlroy was at absolutely rock-bottom," Christine Brennan, a veteran sports columnist for USA Today, told ABC News. "It was embarrassing ... it was stunning to see the leader of the Masters in this trouble."
Such a crushing defeat could have been too much to handle for many young athletes, but McIlroy showed his resilience in the words he spoke just moments after his loss.
"Hopefully next time in this position, I'll be able to handle it a bit better," he said at the time. "It was a character building day, put it that way, and I'll come out stronger for it."
Not only did he go on to show his strength of character on a Maryland golf course Sunday, he has also shown it in his private life.
Just two weeks ago, McIlroy did something few athletes in his presumably fragile state might do, forgoing preparation for the Open to visit earthquake-ravaged Haiti. He left the still-broken nation, he said, feeling lucky, a tacit agreement that golf, even if it is an unforgiving sport, is still just a game.
"I feel like I got over the Masters pretty quickly ... I kept telling you guys that and I don't know if you believed me or not. Here you go," he said as he held up his trophy at a post-game press conference following Sunday's winning round.