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Rory too good again

Rory McIlroy celebrates on the 18th green after clinching the PGA Championship on Sunday at Valhalla. Reuters photo

LOUISVILLE Kentucky (Reuters) — Pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy recovered from a stumbling start to overcome a series of challengers and clinch his fourth major title by a shot at the PGA Championship on Sunday.

A stroke in front of the chasing pack overnight, the Northern Irish world number one lost the lead but regained control after the turn, signing off with a three-under-par 68 at Valhalla Golf Club for a 16-under total of 268.

Phil Mickelson, the 2005 winner, birdied 18 to finish alone in second with a closing 66, with Swede Henrik Stenson (66) and American Rickie Fowler (68) a stroke further back in third.

“I didn’t think in my wildest dreams I’d have a summer like this,” British Open champion McIlroy told CBS Sports after being presented with the coveted Wanamaker Trophy, which he hoisted high in celebration.

“I’ve just played the best golf of my life and just really gutted it out today. It was a little different from the previous major wins that I’ve had and I think I showed a lot of guts out there today to get this job done.”

Trailing by three at one point, McIlroy got within a stroke of the lead with a spectacular eagle at the par-five 10th where he hit his second shot from 281 yards to seven feet, before effectively sealing the title with birdies at the 13th and 17th.

In gathering gloom at Valhalla, where play was suspended for just under two hours earlier in the day due to water-logged conditions, McIlroy parred the last to win his third consecutive title on the PGA Tour, and his second major this year.

The 25-year-old, who won the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah by a record eight shots, became the fourth youngest player to land four majors, with only Tom Morris Jr., Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods ahead of him.

Mickelson, who had been bidding for a sixth major title, recorded his first top-10 finish on the 2013-14 PGA Tour after a disappointing season.

“It was good for me to get back in the mix and to feel the pressure and get in the thick of it,” said the American left-hander. “I kind of ran out of steam there after 12, wasn’t able to get a couple of birdies coming in like I needed to.

It was another near miss from American Rickie Fowler, too.

Rickie Fowler achieved the rare feat of top-five finishes at all four majors this year but Sunday's tie for third at the PGA Championship was the one that stung the most.

The 25-year-old Californian, who has triumphed just once on the PGA Tour, was hunting his first victory on golf's biggest stage and for much of the final round at Valhalla Golf Club he was perched atop the leaderboard.

Three times over the first 10 holes he seized the outright lead before being caught by the chasing pack.

A bogey at the par-three 14th, where he missed the green badly to the right off the tee, ultimately cost him a shot at the title.

“This is probably the one that hurts the most for me with the majors this year,” Fowler told reporters after signing off with a three-under-par 68. “The first three (majors) were a lot of fun obviously, to be in great positions and to get great finishes. This one I felt like I could go out today and win it. I put myself in a good position.

"The back nine wasn't what I was wanting but still, to look back on the year, it was pretty awesome through the majors and something I can be proud of."