Rory McIlroy admitted that he was incredibly proud to become the first man to win three FedEx Cup titles after a sensational Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake.
It’s McIlroy’s third Tour Championship win each bringing the season long FedEx Cup with it and he is $18 million richer after a four-under 66 was enough to win by one shot on twenty-one-under after Scottie Scheffler squandered a six-shot lead.
It is a rare record to which Tiger Woods’ name doesn’t follow which made it extra sweet for the Holywood hat-trick hero.
“You know, to be the first to do anything in the game that you love so much, it’s an incredibly proud moment. The FedExCup isn’t that old. I’ve won three out of the 16, I guess is it now?
“But yeah, to do something else that no one else has done and to even just give myself the opportunity to do that today, and then coupling that with the opportunity and playing the golf when you needed to get the job done, incredibly satisfying,” said McIlroy who felt he had a point to prove after heartbreak at St Andrews.
“I’ve been knocking on the door so much this year. St Andrews was really hard for me. Still, it was a tough one to get over. This softens the blow a little bit. It doesn’t make it that much easier to get over, but it’s great to end the season on a high note like this.
“The FedExCup is a huge tournament, but the major championships are the pinnacle of our sport; this is close behind. I just felt so close all year. I had a couple wins, but I was just waiting for something. Maybe this was it.
“I got a little lucky with Scottie not playing his best golf today, and I took advantage of that with my good play. But, you know, I went up against the best player in the world today and I took him down, and that’s got to mean something.”
McIlroy began the week six shots adrift of Scheffler and after two holes he was ten behind. He whittled that gap down to six heading into the final round knowing he faced a mammoth task to try and wrestle the title from the world number one.
Both players made edgy starts with opening bogeys before four birdies in five holes saw the four-time major champion wipe out Scheffler’s six shot advantage. The gap had been halved to three after birdies on the third and fifth for the Holywood native and a bogey on the fourth for Scheffler.
McIlroy held no putts from outside of ten feet in the final round of the Open Championship but on 5, 6 and 7 he held putts of 10, 11 and 17 feet for a hat trick of birdies to draw level with Scheffler who fell to three-over for the day after a bogey six on the par-5 6th.
Scheffler seemed to gather himself from there and he edged back in front with a birdie on the 8th before Rory got back on terms with a birdie on the 12th. The last third of the round was played out to a dramatic conclusion.
A McIlroy bogey on 14 saw him fall one behind Scheffler before the 33-year-old produced a massive moment holing from 31 feet on the par-3 15th for a levelling birdie which brought the crowd to their feet and drew wild celebrations from McIlroy.
If you’re going to come from six behind to win, you need a little luck. The 16th has been kind to McIlroy over the years – holing from the fairway for an eagle in 2016.
The Northern Irishman flew the green from the fairway bunker and his ball went thundering into the crowd coming to a halt in the rough – the fan who stopped the ball from bundling another 30 yards deserves a cut of the $18 million.
Another slice of luck came his way when his chip rattled the flagstick, preventing what would have been a cast iron bogey.
Then the turning point.
Scheffler made only 1/7 sand saves all week with a display of bunker play an 18 handicap golfer would be disappointed with and after he failed to get up and down to save par, McIlroy held an 8 footer for his par and to take the lead for the first time.
Sungjae Im finished tied second with Scheffler after the Korean came from the depths following a double on 14 to put the cat amongst the pigeons with birdies on 15 and 17, but he couldn’t force the birdie he needed on 18.
Scheffler should have been level going up 18 but he shoved his short birdie putt right and into another postcode in what was a strange display of putting on the day.
It looked like it was game over when the Masters champion found the sand trap with his approach into 18, but Rory has a chink in the armour. A pull hook to the left. The first at the 2019 Open, the 72nd at Quail Hollow. Thankfully his pulled approach cannoned off the grandstand before Scheffler knifed his bunker shot over the green paving the way for a somewhat anti-climactic conclusion as McIlroy could pitch to the middle of the green and two putt for a winning par.
The world number two has had a great season winning the CJ Cup and Canadian Open, ten top-10s in 16 starts and top-8 finishes in all the majors but the one jibe that could have been levelled at him was perhaps he lacked the stomach for the fight and that killer instinct but McIlroy feels he took a big step forward mentally – particularly after his horror start on Thursday.
“Yeah, that’s how it felt. Six behind on the first tee on Thursday and I was 10 behind on the third tee. I guess it just shows you anything’s possible, even when you’re a few behind or a few in front in the tournament. Anything can happen.
“I’m going to remember this week mostly for that. Your mind can go one of two ways when you start like that, and automatically I thought about Tom Kim at Greensboro and the fact that he won after starting with a quad. I could have easily thought the other way and thought, I’ve got no chance now; what am I doing here?
“But I just sort of, I guess, proved that I was in a really good mindset for the week and I didn’t let it get to me too much and just stuck my head down and got to work.”
It was a championship that simmered for 54 holes, it looked as if Scheffler was going to coast to victory before the critics weighed in with their complaints over the aggregate scoring system. However the final round was pure golfing theatre and McIlroy made sure to throw in a parting dig at LIV Golf…
“I said it in the sort of prize ceremony there, this is the best place in the world to play golf. It’s the most competitive. It’s got the best players. It’s got the deepest fields. I don’t know why you’d want to play anywhere else.”