By Martyn Herman
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - They flocked in their thousands to crown Rory McIlroy the new prince of the links and the Northern Irishman with a twinkle in his eye and a magician's touch with a golf club did not let them down at the British Open on Sunday.
It was not all plain sailing - Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler saw to that - but when the 25-year-old tapped his ball a few inches across the 18th green into the hole to seal victory the roar that went up could probably have been heard across the Dee Estuary in North Wales.
Garcia was also given vociferous support as he fought for all he was worth to claw back a seven-shot overnight deficit, at one stage slicing the lead to two strokes as he put together a superb final round of 66, but McIlroy never looked like choking.
With an avalanche of people spilling down the final few fairways, hundreds of cameras trained on his every move and his heart no doubt pounding, McIlroy appeared to have the coolest head on the course as he closed in on the Claret Jug.
"Relax Rory it's all in your hands now," one Liverpudlian bellowed at the 10th hole, before cheekily adding "Chill out because I've got a tenner on you!"
He need not have worried.
McIlroy, the third youngest player to win three of the four majors after his 2011 U.S. Open victory and U.S. PGA triumph in 2012, made a birdie at the par-five 16th, then produced a stunning chip at the par-four 17th to save par after missing the green in two.
Going down the 18th with a three-shot lead he could even afford an excursion into a greenside bunker with his second shot from where he dazzled the massed ranks in the amphitheatre-like grandstand with an escape that almost went in.
A par-five seemed an almost anti-climactic way to land his first Open title, a round of 71 his worst of the week.
Perhaps it was not quite the Hollywood ending for the lad from the a small town that shares the same name, but the script had been written the previous three days when even the weather Gods decided it was Rory's time to shine.
Few will forget the way he ripped apart the Open hopes of the chasing pack on a soggy Saturday, completing the last six holes in a mere 20 strokes, including two majestic eagles.
Clutching the most famous piece of silverware in golf, McIlroy said winning the Open had been something he dreamed of doing when he was a curly-haired young lad hitting balls around his local club after school.
"The Open Championship was the one you really wanted growing up, and the one you holed so many putts on the putting green to win, to beat Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, whatever," McIlroy told a news conference.
"Didn't quite need to hole a putt today to do it, just a little tap-in which was nice. As I said there at the start, it hasn't really sunk in yet. The more I keep looking at this trophy and seeing my name on it, the more it will starting sinking in."
He even had the class to praise his two closest rivals who have yet to experience the taste of a major win and to find a few words for his mum who looked on brimming with pride.
"It was a pleasure to play with Rickie and no doubt your time will come, Sergio too," he said.
"Two of the best players in the world. This is the first major my mother has been at that I have won, so mum, this one is for you. I can't wait to defend this at St Andrews next year."
Englishman Nick Faldo, the Open champion in 1987, 1990 and 1992, said on Twitter: "Congratulations @McIlroyRory fantastic achievement! Grand Slam awaits!"
It was hard to disagree.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)