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Rory McIlroy completed the ideal preparation for the 151st Open as he produced a stunning finish to deny home favourite Robert MacIntyre in dramatic circumstances in the Genesis Scottish Open.
MacIntyre had set a daunting target of 14 under par thanks to a sensational birdie on the 18th, just the second of the day on the closing hole at the Renaissance Club as strong winds made for testing scoring conditions.
However, overnight leader McIlroy birdied the par-three 17th to get on level terms and then hit a stunning 2-iron approach into the last before holing from 10 feet to complete a closing 68 and win his second Rolex Series title of the year.
McIlroy, who will head into next week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, scene of his 2014 triumph, on the back of his first win on Scottish soil, said: “I’m really proud.
“That was such a tough day, especially the back nine. To play that in four under par to win the tournament I’m really proud of how I stuck in there, hit some amazing shots down the stretch and was able to finish it off.
“It feels incredible. It’s been a sort of long six months I feel since I won in Dubai. I’ve given myself tonnes of chances and hopefully this win sort of breaks the seal for me, especially going in to next week as well.
“It’s nice to have the validation. It’s great racking up top fives and top 10s, but it’s much nicer heading away with a trophy on a Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a great shot of confidence and helps having something fresh in my memory. If I hopefully find myself in a similar position next week where I have a chance to win with nine holes to go, I can certainly draw on what I did here.
“I haven’t seen Hoylake since 2014 so I’ll get out on the course on Monday and try to figure it out and make sure I’m ready.”
MacIntyre began the final round five shots behind McIlroy but made good on his promise to relish “absolutely brutal” weather as he followed birdies on the third and sixth with an eagle on the par-five 10th.
A birdie on the 14th moved the left-hander into the outright lead for the first time as pacesetter Tyrrell Hatton began to falter – and he immediately doubled his advantage after a superb approach to the next finished inches from the hole.
McIlroy kept himself in contention with a birdie on the 11th and, after MacIntyre bogeyed the par-five 16th, the Northern Irishman holed from almost 40 feet on the 14th to share the lead.
MacIntyre was fortunate to find the spectator walkway following a wild drive on the 18th, but took full advantage by hitting a stunning approach with a fairway wood to within four feet of the hole.
The resulting birdie completed a superb 64 but, having gone to the turn in 37, McIlroy came home in 31 – despite failing to birdie either par five – to snatch an unlikely victory.
“It was a poor tee-shot on the 18th, but then probably the best shot I have ever hit in my life,” MacIntyre said.
“I thought it might be enough, but that’s what happens when you are playing against the best in the world. I’ve grown up watching Scottish Opens and my dream was always to win one.
“I thought today might have been the day, but it wasn’t to be. I’m absolutely gutted just now, but I take my hat off to Rory. What a finish.”
MacIntyre had fought back tears as he walked off the 18th green contemplating what looked like being a third DP World Tour title worth £1.2million and a two-year PGA Tour exemption.
“I have never had support like that in my life,” he added. “Having the support of family and friends is massive. But it felt like everyone out there was willing me to do it.
“I was struggling for a wee bit there, I didn’t have the love for the game, I didn’t have the buzz, I was never in contention, I was pottering about middle of the table.
“The last wee while I have been in contention, I have got the buzz back. It would have been one hell of a celebration but it wasn’t to be just now.”
The runners-up finish is still a massive boost to MacIntyre’s chances of securing a Ryder Cup debut in Rome and McIlroy was full of praise for the 26-year-old.
“If he can shoot 64 on a day like today he can do anything,” McIlroy said. “That was an unbelievable round of golf. It’s great to see him back in form.”
South Korea’s Ben An and Sweden’s David Lingmerth secured places in the Open after finishing in a tie for third with world number one Scottie Scheffler, with Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard taking the last berth thanks to a closing 67.