London - Many drinks have been sipped from the famous Claret Jug over the years but was this the first time the tipple of choice was a Jagermeister cocktail?
Sunday evening, after Rory McIlroy had won The Open. A quiet dinner back at the rental house. Then it was on to the Empire bar and club in Liverpool in the company of Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and the most famous trophy in the game.
‘There was an area cordoned off and it was a lovely gathering of about 20 or 30 people,’ said a witness. ‘Rory was not bombarded in any way.’
The last three winners had all been in their 40s, so opted for the more conventional red wine. Last year’s winner Phil Mickelson poured in a vintage Romanee Conti Burgundy with a price tag of £30 000 a bottle. This year’s winner was 18 years younger. Hence the Jagerbomb. With a slightly sore head, McIlroy made his way to the Emerald Isle on Monday and will remain there until Friday. Then he’s off to New York for the weekend before it’s back to the day job.
McIlroy is a fortnight into a stretch that will see him play 11 tournaments in 14 weeks. The big one for him is the USPGA Championship in 16 days on a Valhalla course that ought to fit his eye. With momentum on his side, it would surprise no one if he emulated Tiger Woods’s achievement in 2006 when he followed up his Hoylake win by claiming the next major as well.
‘It has been a difficult 18 months at times but winning the Claret Jug makes it all worthwhile,’ said McIlroy, reflecting on a period that included a fair bit of well-chronicled turmoil away from the course. ‘I felt like I had to silence a few doubters about how I could play links golf, how I could handle a lead and how I would play on Friday. But when I went there a couple of weeks ago I felt it was a course where I could do well. I was coming into form and just needed something to click.’
With three majors to his name at the startling age of 25, it’s only natural to wonder how many he could win. The next landmark is the six won by Sir Nick Faldo and the seven by Harry Vardon - the most successful European golfer of all time.
Given the three so far were claimed in four years against a tumultuous backdrop of obvious distractions, it would surprise no one if he overtakes them by the time he reaches 30 - the age at which Faldo won his first.
If he maintains the pace he is on right now, with three wins out of the last 16 played, he will have the same number as Tiger (14) heading into his 40s.
Who would have thought, when he was establishing a four-shot lead with a round to play at the 2011 Masters, that the Green Jacket would be the missing garment needed to complete his career Grand Slam?
I doubt you’d find anyone in the game who doesn’t believe McIlroy will win a Masters one day. Becoming the sixth player to achieve the career Slam - after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Woods - is just a case of when, and McIlroy has reached that stage where he will be happy to embrace the hype that will tumble his way next April.
Woods gave a surprisingly tepid response on Sunday when asked about McIlroy. ‘He’s one of those players like Phil (Mickelson), he has his hot weeks and his weeks when he’s off. That’s just the way he plays,’ he said.
The fact is McIlroy has hardly been off all year. It was in January you could sense a renewed purpose.
But for a series of inexplicably bad second rounds, he would have won four or five times already this year. All that matters for little, of course, when the two you do win are Europe’s flagship event at Wentworth in May and, in particular, the Claret Jug.
Some players never get over what they regard as the achievement of a lifetime. With McIlroy, you get the feeling it will take him a week. Next stop is one of his favourite events - the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Ohio. I bet he can’t wait for the first-tee announcement, and the best feeling in the sport: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the 2014 Open Champion ...’