BETHESDA, Md. —Rory McIlroy buried the memory of his Masters meltdown the same way he buried the competition at the U.S. Open, with a breathtaking performance filled with the promise of more majors to come.
Four days of flawless golf at Congressional ended Sunday afternoon when McIlroy polished off a 2-under 69 to shatter U.S. Open records that simply defy logic at the major known as the toughest test in golf.
He finished at 16-under par.
The last 10 U.S. Open champions combined were 14 under.
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland walked off the 18th green and into the arms of his father, Gerry, who worked three jobs so his only son could pursue his passion. Not even he could have imagined a day like this.
"Happy Father's Day," McIlroy told him.
Dad had a Northern Ireland flag draped over his green shirt.
"Unbelievable," he said. "With what's happened over the last couple of months, and to come back and do this, it's fantastic. After the Masters, he worked so hard. I really can't put it into words. And on Father's Day, it's fantastic. You couldn't beat it."
It was the second straight U.S. Open title for the tiny country of Northern Ireland, and defending champion Graeme McDowell walked back across the bridge to the 18th green to embrace the new winner.
"You're a legend," McDowell told him.
Not many would dispute that now, not after a week like this.
McIlroy finished at 268 to break the U.S. Open record by four shots. That record 12-under par by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach? McIlroy matched it in the second round and kept right on rolling.
"I couldn't ask for much more, and I'm just so happy to be holding this trophy," McIlroy said. "I know how good Tiger was in 2000 to win by 15 in Pebble. I was trying to go out there and emulate him in some way. I played great for four days, and I couldn't be happier."
When he arrived for his press conference, he took a picture of the silver U.S. Open trophy on the table and posted it on Twitter with two references that said it all: Winning. Bounceback.
"Going back to Augusta this year, I felt like that was a great opportunity to get my first major. It didn't quite work out," McIlroy said. "But to come back straightaway at the U.S. Open and win that is nice. You can always call yourself a major champion, and hopefully after this, I can call myself a multiple major champion."
Since the Masters began in 1934, McIlroy is the second youngest major champion next to Woods.
His freckled-face bursting with joy when he tapped in for par, McIlroy won by eight shots over Jason Day, who closed with a 68 and moved to No. 9 in the world. It was the second straight runner-up in a major for Day, only this time he didn't have a chance.
No one did this week.
McIlroy opened with a three-shot lead, stretched it to six shots after 36 holes and eight shots going into the final round. No one got any closer over the final 18 holes.
Tributes poured in throughout the steamy afternoon outside the nation's capital — first from the players he beat, then from Jack Nicklaus and ultimately from Woods.
"What a performance from start to finish," Woods said in a statement. "Enjoy the win. Well done."
"I didn't think it was going to happen again, and it hasn't," Nicklaus said by telephone to NBC Sports. "I think this kid's going to have a great career. I don't think there's any question about it. He's got all the components. He's got a lot of people rooting for him. He's a nice kid. He's got a pleasant personality.
"He's humble when he needs to be humble, and he's confident when he needs to be confident."
And to think that only four days ago, this was being called the U.S. Wide Open with no clear favorite in the game. Woods has gone 18 months without winning and isn't even playing now because of injuries to his left leg. The top two players in the world have yet to win a major. There appeared to be no one who stood out in the game.
McIlroy, who goes to No. 4 in the world, now stands above everyone going into the final two majors of the year.
Just think: If he had avoided the collapse at Augusta National, he could be headed to Royal St. George's for the British Open with the first two legs of the Grand Slam.
"Nothing this kid does ever surprises me," McDowell said. "He's the best player I've ever seen. I didn't have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I've ever seen. Simple as that. He's great for golf. He's a breath of fresh air for the game, and perhaps we're ready for golf's next superstar.
"And maybe," he said, "Rory is it."