Entering the British Open, only one player had finished in the top five in the year’s previous two majors. Here, Rickie Fowler did it again.

Fowler’s closing 67 Sunday wasn’t scarcely enough to catch Rory McIlroy, who won at Royal Liverpool Golf Club at 17 under, two shots clear of Fowler and Sergio Garcia. But Fowler’s final round was his fourth straight in the 60s, and his tie for second here joins his tie for fifth at the Masters and tie for second at the U.S. Open as evidence that his game is trending in the right direction.

“Going into the year, the goal was to be in contention at majors and play well and have chances to win,” Fowler said. “And with the good play, the long-distance goal on that was to be on the Ryder Cup team.”

Fowler essentially clinched his spot for the U.S. team at Gleneagles, Scotland, with his performance here. It was the second consecutive major in which he played in the final group. Yet for all his strong performances, he still has just one PGA Tour victory — the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, in which he beat McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff.

“There’s plenty more to come,” he said.

Rickie Fowler watches his shot from the fifth tee during his fourth round. (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
Woods finishes 69th

Tiger Woods’s 75 Sunday left him 6 over par for the tournament and with his worst 72-hole finish at a major as a pro, finishing 69th with only three players behind him.

“I just made too many mistakes,” said Woods, who completed four rounds for the first time since undergoing back surgery March 31.

The key question then becomes his own Ryder Cup fate. Tom Watson, the American captain, shot a 68 Sunday to finish 1 over and beat Woods, even at age 64.

“It’s just one day,” Watson said. “It’s a snapshot. It’s not a big deal.”

Watson has three captain’s choices for the 12-man U.S. team that will compete Sept. 26-28. He reiterated his stance on taking Woods: if he’s healthy and playing well, meaning he’s qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs, he’s on the team.

“Looks like he’s playing without pain,” Watson said. “But again, he’s not in the mix. He needed to get in the mix to get some points to get some money and get in the FedEx Cup. That’s what I was hoping he was doing this week.”

He didn’t. Woods last broke 70 on the weekend of a major in the final round of the 2011 Masters, 18 such rounds ago. He said he hoped to “win the next two tournaments I’m in. That should take care of that.” But the only positive he had to take from Royal Liverpool, where he won in 2006, was that he played.

“I’m still building,” he said. “I’m still working on my game. And I’m still getting stronger and faster.”

Hurley breaks par

Billy Hurley III, the Annapolis resident and graduate of the Naval Academy, finished his first British Open with a 1-under 71 to get to 4 over for the tournament, tied for 64th. After making three bogeys in his first seven holes Sunday, Hurley made five birdies over his final 10 to break par for the first time in four rounds.

“Hit two good shots into 18 and make birdie to shoot under par at the Open Championship?” Hurley said. “I’ll take it.”

Over the past five weeks, Hurley has experienced quite a whirlwind — qualifying for the U.S. Open, then playing in his first major, then contending for his first PGA Tour victory at the Greenbrier Classic and finally playing here. He will take a much-needed break now — traveling to London and Paris with his wife and baby daughter — but the stretch has been invaluable as his career develops.

“I’m just continuing to learn about me, learn about what I need to work on, where I need to go in my game to compete at this level,” Hurley said. “For me, it’s not so much about learning new shots. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But I have to get more comfortable hitting all the shots. Right now I’m not super-comfortable with all the shots that I need to be comfortable with. I’ve got to be able to do them all at the right times.” . . .

Ten years ago, McIlroy’s father, Gerry, and three friends bet 400 pounds — legally — that Rory, then 15, would win the British Open before he turned 26. They got 500-to-1 odds.

“The other three friends that he did that with,” Rory McIlroy said, “they’re going to be very happy.”