Rory McIlroy rebounds from rough start to capture FedExCup
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Overcomes triple-bogey on first hole in first round, collects record third season-long title
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
Rory McIlroy’s Round 4 highlights from TOUR Championship
ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy hit his opening tee shot of the TOUR Championship over the fence that borders East Lake Golf Club and onto Allendale Drive SE, and if this didn’t amount to totaling the car on the way out of the garage, it at least redefined the term Starting Strokes. His triple-bogey on the first hole, and a bogey on the second, dropped him 10 shots behind FedExCup No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. At least there were 70 holes remaining.
That McIlroy would shoot 67 that day seemed unlikely. That he would chase down Scheffler to win the FedExCup? Impossible. And yet here we are, McIlroy’s final-round 66 overcoming a six-shot deficit to edge a faltering Scheffler (73) and surging Sungjae Im (66) by a shot.
“Incredible day, incredible week,” said McIlroy, who also birdied the last two holes of his weather-delayed third round Sunday. “… To claw my way back and end up winning the tournament, incredible. Just really proud of my resilience and how I sort of handled that start and just sort of stuck my head down and kept going all week and took advantage of the opportunity that I was given today.”
McIlroy admitted he didn’t give himself much of a chance to chase down Scheffler, who won four times in six starts in the spring and took a six-shot lead into the final round. Both players bogeyed the first hole, but McIlroy rallied for a front-nine 32, Scheffler scuffled to a 37.
At that point it was anyone’s tournament, and Im was making birdies to get in the mix, as well.
It was McIlroy’s record third FedExCup title. It also came at the end of a season full of solid results but not as many trophies as he would have liked, especially in the majors, where he had four top-10s but no wins.
“I've said all along this year, this season felt very, very similar to 2019,” McIlroy said, comparing it to his second FedExCup-winning campaign. “I played great golf. I had some good wins but didn't pick off a major, but I felt like – Harry (Diamond, McIlroy’s caddie) said it to me on the 18th green today. He goes, ‘All the good golf you played this year, you deserve this.’”
Maybe so, but who deserves what in this game is still open for debate.
That putter that misbehaved as McIlroy slid into solo third place at the Open Championship last month? It woke up. He made nearly 116 feet of putts Sunday, none bigger than his 32-foot birdie bomb on 15 – McIlroy pumped his fist and yelled “Come on!” as the fans erupted – and a 7 1/2-foot par save on 16.
Pars on 17 and 18 were enough as first Im, then Scheffler failed to birdie the par-5 finishing hole.
There was something fitting about the way McIlroy won, for it was a season that was about great ball-striking and the three victories, yes, but it was also about peeling himself up off the mat. He was crestfallen to hold the 54-hole lead but lose the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews. With seemingly the whole world pulling for him, he stumbled with 36 putts, shot 70, and had his doors blown off by Cameron Smith (64). What were the days after St. Andrews like?
“Tough,” McIlroy said at the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind, the first stop in the three-week FedExCup Playoffs. “That night was tough.”
He needed to get away, so instead of returning home to Jupiter, Florida, he and Erica and Poppy hung out in London for two weeks. He didn’t touch a club, and didn’t work out, either.
It wasn’t like it had been a bad season. McIlroy, 33, won THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT and shot a final-round 62 to win the RBC Canadian Open in June. He had nine top-10s in 15 starts coming into this week, his remarkable consistency drawing comparisons to 2019, when he also won the FedExCup, beating then-No. 1 Brooks Koepka to do so.
“It's in some ways fitting that I was able to get this done today to sort of round off a year that has been very, very challenging and different,” McIlroy said. “… Back in 2019 I took down the No. 1 player in the world in Brooks Koepka. This year I took down the No. 1 player in the world in Scottie Scheffler. I know that my best stuff is good enough to win any tournament against anybody on any golf course. That's something I can take away from today.”
McIlroy was second for the week in Strokes Gained: Putting, and first in driving distance. That’s a tough combination to beat. At the end of his third round, he crushed his drive 336 yards down the 18th fairway, 36 yards past playing partner Max Homa, who also split the fairway.
“I’ve never really played with Rory where he didn’t look great,” said Homa, who shot a final-round 66 to finish tied for fifth in his first TOUR Championship. “He controlled the ball really well, he drove it great, and he didn’t make any mistakes. It was impressive.”
It can be hard to watch a player do that over a four-hour round; we may never know if it rattled Scheffler. When it was over, with the FedExCup sitting in front of him, McIlroy said that while he was far behind going into the final round, he took solace in being paired with the frontrunner. Maybe Scheffler would slip up; maybe McIlroy could cut the margin to three by the turn.
As it turned out, he did a lot better than that.
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.