McIlroy emerges from Baltimore’s Battle of the Giants with fresh hope for Atlanta

Bernie McGuire
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McIlroy emerges from Baltimore’s Battle of the Giants with fresh hope for Atlanta

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

A fourth place finish in a prestigious event such as the BMW Championship is a fantastic achievement for any golfer.

It’s a great result for Rory McIlroy and his second-best finish in his 20 events on the 2020/21 PGA Tour season and good enough to see the Irishman head to this coming week’s Tour Championship now lying 16th on the FedEx Cup standings. That’s up a dozen places from the start of his week and comes on the back of McIlroy’s closing round of 67 on the Caves Valley course to the north-west of Baltimore.

Except, McIlroy found his way to fourth place in a week where the €8.1m event was dominated by two colleagues, and did they dominate! It was a golfing version of Goliath not taking on David but Goliath coming up against Samson with Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay going blow for blow over the closing two rounds.

The pair finished at the 72nd hole locked at 27-under par after Cantlay, who bogeyed 17, holed a clutch 22-foot birdie putt at the last and DeChambeau missed his par from half the distance for the win.

Back to the 18th it was, and then again for a second time, and then onto the par-3 17th for the third play-off hole before finding their way back to 18 for a fourth occasion where DeChambeau’s tee shot took one hop into the water hazard running all down the right side of the hole.

Cantlay, who had holed some remarkable putts to stay in the play-off, found the green in regulation but then DeChambeau managed to tie Cantlay’s par after a brilliant recovery approach, so back it was to the 17th for a fifth play-off hole.

Remarkably, after four pars apiece, both birdied 17 so it was back to 18 for a fourth time and the sixth play-off hole where Cantlay made it back-to-back birdies to deny DeChambeau who missed out with a par.

“I felt like I just wanted to stay in my own little world and that’s what I tried to do all week,” said Cantlay. “To be headed now to East Lake as No. 1 on the FedEc Cup standings is very satisfying.”

Yes, there have been multiplayer play-offs but there has not been a battle for many a long year on the PGA Tour as we witnessed between DeChambeau and Cantlay. It’s little wonder hardly any spectator was about to leave the course even with the threat of darkness halting the play-off. The tournament from day one was riveting. Yes, it was a birdie feast but what a feast it served-up.

McIlroy emerged from the support cast with a 22-under par tally just six days after he hurled his 3-wood over the fence at the ninth hole on the final day of the Northern Trust and left New Jersey with a distant share of 43rd place. The four-time Major winner finished at Caves Valley with all 14 clubs and a great boost as he heads home to celebrate his daughter Poppy’s 1st birthday today [Monday].

McIlroy’s hopes of becoming the first player to capture three PGA Tour No. 1 crowns in Georgia clearly have been buoyed with scores in Maryland of 64, 70, 65 and six birdies over his final round. His fourth-place finish is his best since capturing the Wells Fargo Championship.

“It’s been a good week and a lot more encouraging than last week at the Northern Trust,” he said. “I played better. I got off to a better start. I think that’s the thing, as well; Pete Cowen has always been on to me about if you start tournaments well, you’ll do well. It was nice to play a good first round this week and sort of build off of that and not really be trying to play catch-up all the time.

“But yeah, it was a really good week. I hit the ball well. I putted better with the old putter back in the bag. Yeah, look, all I wanted to do was get to East Lake next week, and it’s nice that I’ve moved up a few spots, as well, and probably started a couple of shots closer to the leader.

“It’s not as if I’ve been playing badly the last few months. I just feel like I haven’t been getting a lot out of my game. I tidied up my short game a bit this week, which was nice to see, made some good up-and-downs, made putts when I needed to hole putts to save a par or to make a birdie on a par-5 and keep the momentum going.

“Just all of those little things that — like you don’t necessarily feel that you play that differently, but all those little things add up to two or three shots a day, and that’s a big difference out here.”

McIlroy was jetting straight south to Florida but on this occasion it will not be to go rummaging in the garage looking for an old club but more importantly, he’s got a special birthday to attend.
“It’s Poppy’s birthday party tomorrow.  She’s turning one, so excited for that so I’ll eat a little cake and go up to Atlanta on Tuesday,” he said.

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