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Rory McIlroy’s ‘shot of the year’ clinches epic late victory at windy Scottish Open

<i>Octavio Passos/Getty Images</i><br/>MacIntyre fell agonizingly short of a fairytale home win.
Octavio Passos/Getty Images
MacIntyre fell agonizingly short of a fairytale home win.

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — Rory McIlroy delivered a sensational finish to triumph at the Scottish Open on Sunday, birdieing the final two holes to snatch victory from home hero Robert MacIntyre.

As blustering winds battered the field at The Renaissance Club, the Northern Irishman struck “one of the best shots” of his glittering career with a stunning approach at the 18th hole before rolling home to clinch a one-stroke victory.

A first ever triumph in Scotland sees the 34-year-old become the first player to win The Scottish Open, The Irish Open and The Open Championship, which returns to Royal Liverpool for the first time since 2014 – the year of McIlroy’s last major triumph – on Thursday.

The four-time major champion had carried a one-stroke lead into the final round, which had teed off early in an attempt to get out ahead of expected heavy winds, but saw his advantage evaporate after a grisly start.

Four bogeys across his first nine holes contrasted a faultless, bogey-free start from MacIntyre, who shot an eagle at the 10th before closing with a birdie to cap a blistering, round-best six-under 64 and set the clubhouse target at 14-under par.

It put the world No. 54 ranked Scot within touching distance of a fairytale home victory, with McIlroy needing to birdie one of the two notoriously challenging closing holes for the first time that week just to force a playoff.

McIlroy went one better. After arrowing his 5-iron tee shot to within five feet of the par-three penultimate hole to draw level, he switched to his 2-iron to send an incredible 200-yard effort onto the 18th green.

A putt from almost 11 feet to win was no easy feat, but there was a certain inevitability about the outcome given preceding events. McIlroy lasered home to card 68 for the round and 16-under overall, sealing the £1.2 million (almost $1.57 million) winner’s prize money and leapfrogging Jon Rahm to No. 2 in the world rankings.

“This is right up there with the best of them,” McIlroy told reporters about the end of the tournament.

“I thought if I can birdie one of the last two and get into a playoff, that would be a bonus. The two iron shots that I hit … are probably two of the best shots I’ve hit all year, and then to finish them off with the putts as well.”

His 16th win on the DP World Tour, the victory provides a perfect momentum boost as McIlroy heads to Royal Liverpool to attempt to end a nine-year major drought on Thursday.

Victory at the Merseyside course highlighted the best season of McIlroy’s career in 2014, with the Northern Irishman adding his fourth major triumph at the PGA Championship a month later. Yet despite finishing inside the top-10 on 19 occasions since, McIlroy’s wait for a fifth major crown endures.

After missing the cut at The Masters, McIlroy finished tied-seventh at the PGA Championship before falling narrowly short of Wyndham Clark at the US Open in June, his third runner-up finish at a major since 2014.

“It feels absolutely amazing,” McIroy said.

“I’ve had a few close calls recently so to get over the line and get this bit of confidence going into next week and the rest of the season is huge.”

McIlroy’s ecstasy contrasted agony for MacIntyre, who had been roared on by the Scottish crowds in pursuit of his national tournament and a third DP World Tour win.

The 26-year-old had pulled off a remarkable birdie of his own on the final hole, superbly hitting his approach to within a few feet after his tee drive had settled on a spectator path, and was given a rousing reception as he left the 18th green.

“I’ll never forget it … that’s why I play this sport,” MacIntyre told reporters.

“The Scottish Open will be up there with the event I want to play for the rest of my life. It’s one I’ve dreamed of winning since I watched at home, and I thought today coming down once I birdied 18, I thought, this might be the one.

“But it’s not to be just now, and plenty of years ahead … Rory McIlroy’s potentially the best in the world, and he showed why today. I take my hat off to him.”

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