Henrik Stenson carded a joint record eight-under-par 63 yesterday to win The Open by three shots after an enthralling final-round tussle with Phil Mickelson.
The Swede, 40, birdied four of his final five holes to win his first major with an Open Championship record score of 20 under par at Royal Troon.
Mickelson, 46, had an eagle and four birdies in a 65, while fellow American JB Holmes (69) was third on six under.
They finished on the same mark as Spain’s Sergio Garcia (69), and one behind American Steve Stricker (69).
Like McIlroy, Jordan Spieth saved his best round of the week for Sunday, the American’s 68 lifting him to two over.
Crowd favourite Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston got to seven under before the 27-year-old Londoner faded to a final-day 73 and eighth on three under.
Defending champion Zach Johnson (71) ended one under, alongside English duo Andy Sullivan and Matt Southgate, the Essex golfer who conquered testicular cancer.
England’s Masters champion Danny Willett closed with a level-par 71 for seven over.
Stenson becomes the first Scandinavian golfer to win a major with victory at Royal Troon
His 20-under total eclipsed Tiger Woods’ 19-under-par record total in winning The Open at St Andrews in 2000.
The Swede’s 63 also beats two-time Open champion Greg Norman’s 64 at Royal St George’s in 1993 as the lowest final round by a champion, while his aggregate score of 264 beat the Australian’s four-round total of 267, set the same year.
Stenson becomes the fourth man over 40 to win the Claret Jug in the last six years – following Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke (Sandwich, 2011), Ernie Els (Lytham, 2012) and Mickelson (Muirfield, 2013).
The pairing of Stenson and Mickelson over the final 36 holes drew an obvious comparison with the 1977 Open on this same stretch of Ayrshire coast, when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought their famous ‘Duel in the Sun’ over a red-hot two days at neighbouring Turnberry.
At Royal Troon, Stenson began the day a shot ahead on 12 under, only to lose the lead by the end of the first hole, as he bogeyed and Mickelson birdied.
Stenson responded by knocking in five birdies in his next seven holes to edge one clear of Mickelson who managed one birdie and eagle.
They were level again when Stenson bogeyed the 11th but he was back in front with a birdie on the 14th and went two clear for first time when he rolled in a 45-foot putt across the 15th green.
A third successive birdie on the 16th was matched by Mickelson and the American then rolled in an excellent par-saving putt on the 17th to stay two adrift going down the last.
But the five-time major winner left his approach to the 18th 30 feet short of the cup while Stenson fired to 15 feet and rolled in to match the 63 Mickelson opened with on Thursday.
The left-hander, who finished third the last time The Open was staged at Royal Troon in 2004, dropped just four shots in his four rounds and his 17-under total would have have won 140 of the previous 144 Championships.
“I played well enough to win by a number of strokes and got beat,” said Mickelson who has now finished runner-up in a major on 11 occasions.
“I’m happy with the way I played, but disappointed it wasn’t enough. I played a bogey-free round and shot 65 in the final round of a major, usually that’s good enough to do it. And I got beat.”
World number four McIlroy started his final-day charge with a birdie at the second – and picked up three more, at the fifth, sixth and ninth holes.
But a wayward drive down the right, which lead to a hack out of gorse, at the hardest hole of the week, the 11th, brought him his first bogey and another followed at the 12th. Birdies at the 13th and 17th holes saw him get back to four under.
“I was hoping to play that back nine under par at least one day this week, but it was not quite to be,” said McIlroy.
“If I could take anything back it would be the first nine holes on Saturday, but I’ve done pretty well, considering everything.”
Spieth, 22, started the day on five over, 17 shots off the pace and the highlight of his round was an eagle three on the par-five fifth.
“I’m going to spin it however I can,” said the two-time major winner. “In the half of the field we were in, what looks like a top-30 finish is a real positive.”
Englishmen Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and David Howell all ended their weeks with sub-par rounds to create a trio on one over for the Championship.
Westwood had four birdies in his front-nine 32 on the way to a three-under 68, while his former Ryder Cup team-mate Howell had just one bogey and two birdies in a 70 that was matched by Rose, whose three birdies were soured by bogeys at 5 and 15.
Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie was the first player out on the course on Sundaymorning and he closed what he hopes will not be his final Open appearance with a five-over 76 to finish on 17 over.
Wales’ Jamie Donaldson had a quadruple-bogey eight on the par-four 12th in an eight-over 79 and 13 over total.