Rory McIlroy produced two of the greatest closing birdies in golfing history to come out on top of a rollercoaster Sunday at the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club.
A carved 3-wood to four feet into a strong headwind set up a 72nd hole birdie that looked set to go down in Scottish golfing lore as Robert MacIntyre took the clubhouse lead, but the four-time major winner trumped him with a stinging 2-iron of his own and secured his first victory since edging Patrick Reed at the Dubai Desert Classic back in January.
In winds gusting over 30 mph, MacIntyre produced a sublime six-under 64 that was the lowest round of the day by two, with Corey Conners’ 66 the next best.
Two birdies on the opening nine were complemented by an eagle-three at the 10th which vaulted him up the leaderboard, and two more birdies back-to-back on 14 and 15 took him to 14-under and opened up a two-stroke advantage.
Playing several groups behind the Scot, McIlroy struggled in the heavy winds, bogeying four of the opening nine holes as he reached the turn at +2 for the day. Uncharacteristically struggling with his driver, a miraculous recovery shot from the heavy stuff set up a birdie on the 11th and reignited his challenge.
Up ahead, MacIntyre bogeyed the par-5 16th and when McIlroy rolled in a 38-footer on the par-3 14th, the pair were tied at -13.
A wildly sliced tee-shot at the last looked destined for the hay, but the Scottish golfing gods were smiling favourably upon MacIntyre and he somehow found a narrow walkway, allowing him to have a crack at the green and producing one of the shots of the season.
But McIlroy wasn’t about to throw in the towel. Despite misreading an eight-footer on the 16th, a sensational 7-iron to the par-3 17th rode the green contours and nestled four-and-a-half feet from the cup and he drained the putt to tie MacIntyre.
The closing hole, measuring 483 yards, was playing straight into the teeth of the gale, and even mashing a driver, McIlroy had 201 yards in. Adding to the difficulty, he found an old divot, but hit a laser-like 2-iron that skirted the hole and came to rest 11 feet beyond.
Fearing he’d pulled the putt a touch, his heart skipped a beat, but it held its line and found the left edge, bringing loud roars from the galleries who were torn between national pride and appreciation for one of the all-time greats finishing in all-time great fashion.
“Really proud,” McIlroy said in the immediate aftermath, “that was such a tough day, I mean, so tough, especially the back nine. I bogeyed my last two holes on the front nine to go to two-over and I saw Tyrell was making a run and obviously Bob was making a run as well and had an unbelievable finish, to play that back nine in four-under-par to win the tournament. Yeah, really proud of how I stuck in there, hit some amazing shots down the stretch and was able to finish it off with a really nice putt there.
“Yeah, feels incredible. It’s been a long six months since I won in Dubai. I’ve given myself tons of chances and hopefully this win breaks the seal for me especially going into next week as well.”
Unsurprisingly, McIlroy feels that the approach to the last is among the best shots he’s hit all year. “I was right between 2-iron and 4-iron,” he laughed, “I took my 3-iron out at the start of the week and it was probably a perfect 3-iron, but 4-rion was only getting to the front of the green and 2-rion, I had to cut it and get it up into the wind a bit and I just hit this 2-iron and it came off absolutely perfectly. Probably the best shot I’ve hit all year; it was exactly the way I wanted to play it and when you hit a shot like that, I felt I deserved to hole that putt to finish it off.”
“You know, it was straight downwind,” he said of the winning putt, “so it was quite easy. I knew it was going to get to the hole even though the greens are quite slow so I was like, just start it on my line, sort of right edge or a ball out on the right and just sort of let it do its thing. It hung on for me, I though it might have been missing left in the end but it hung on and went in.
To hole that putt on 17 to at least give myself the opportunity to win in regulation and then to do that on 18, I’ll take a lot from that, not just going into next week but going into the rest of the year.”
McIlroy’s victory makes up for an otherwise disappointing day for the Irish, as Shane Lowry shot three-over to end the week tied for 12th at -7, while Tom McKibbin finished T35, one ahead of Padraig Harrington on -3.