HOYLAKE, England — Rory McIlroy looked out at a room packed with reporters and knew he was going to disappoint them.
All week, he had talked about two secret words he used as his trigger for the shots he played. Even as he stretched his lead to six shots going into Sunday, he said he would only reveal them if he were to win the British Open.
In the hours before he teed off, the media put one pound ($1.70) in a pot and tried to guess the two words.
“Very simple,” McIlroy said, the claret jug at his side. “It’s going to be a big letdown for everyone. It was ‘process’ and ‘spot.’ That was it.”
And the meaning?
“With my long shots, I just wanted to stick to my process and stick to making good decisions, making good swings,” he said. “The process of making a good swing, if I had any sort of little swing thoughts, just keeping that so I wasn’t thinking about the end result, basically.”
The “spot” was about his putting.
“I was just picking a spot on the green and trying to roll it over my spot,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about holing it. I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean or how many further clear it would get me. I just wanted to roll that ball over that spot. If that went in, then great. If it didn’t, then I’d try it the next hole.”
That led to an even more important question. Since no one guessed the words, what happened to the money?
The plan was to donate it to a charity of McIlroy’s choice.
McIlroy had a 68 as his target score for the final round, knowing that would mean someone had to set a major championship record (no one has done better than 63) to catch him. He didn’t come close, but he didn’t need to.
Even so, it was a day for low scoring. Four players tied the scoring record of 65 at Royal Liverpool.
Chris Wood was the first. Shane Lowry of Ireland birdied three of his last four holes to match him. Marc Leishman did the same for a 65. And the last was Jim Furyk, who played in the par 5s in 5-under par on the day.
Dustin Johnson had a 65 on Friday.
Eight years ago at Hoylake, Tiger Woods, Chris DiMarco, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia each had a 65.
Phil Mickelson had another good Sunday in the British Open, this time a 68 that at least ended on a positive note and allowed him to pick up some Ryder Cup points. Mickelson was more concerned with his play than the points.
“I don’t want to look at it and think about it too much,” Mickelson said. “If I play like I did this week at Akron and the PGA, I’ll be fine. I’ll be on it. But it would be beneficial for both me and Tom (Watson) if I can do it on my own.”
Mickelson has two events left — Firestone and the PGA Championship, worth double points as a major. The only three Americans in the top 10 at Royal Liverpool already were among the top nine in the Ryder Cup standings.
He has qualified for every U.S. team since 1995 at Oak Hill, where he went 3-0 as a rookie.
“It’s been 19 years now that I’ve made it on my own, and I think it’s a record of consistency to play that well to make the team on your own without being a pick for almost two decades,” he said.
“And I’d like to keep that streak going.”
Mickelson won’t count on being a pick. He’s never had to worry about that.
“I don’t know if I played well enough this year to deserve a spot,” he said. “You want players that are hot, that are playing well. And I need to step up and start doing that.”
You’re out of here
McIlroy’s most important tee shot was on the par-5 16th, and it was his best of the day. He hit it down the middle, leaving him an iron into the green for a two-putt birdie that restored his lead to three shots with two to play.
Most peculiar was his reaction. McIlroy turned and glared into the gallery, pointing to someone with the end of his driver. Moments later, the BBC showed police escorting a fan off the property.
“He was giving me grief all day, actually,” McIlroy said. “And I sort of put up with it for the first 15 holes, and then he deliberately coughed on my downswing on the 16th tee. I still hit a great drive. But I heard it halfway down and I knew who it was. So I turned around and got him chucked out, thankfully.
“I don’t know who it was,” he said. “But I didn’t have him bothering me for the last two holes, which was nice.”
A tribute to parents
Rosie McIlroy wasn’t at the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship won by her son. So when Rory McIlroy tapped in for par, he waved toward the back of his green to summon his mother to join him. It about made him break down.
“I was trying not to cry at the time because she was bawling her eyes out,” he said. “The support of my parents has been incredible — even growing up and doing everything, the sacrifices they made for me. Even to this day, they’re the two people in this world that I can talk to about anything. I couldn’t ask to have two better parents. They’re there for me at the worst of times, like this time last year after missing the cut.”
And then he turned to look at the claret jug before he finished his thoughts.
“Or the best of times, walking off as the champion golfer of the year,” he continued. “I can’t speak highly enough of my parents. They’re the best people in the world.”