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Friday, September 25, 2020

McIlroy roars to Players Championship crown

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The long, and sometimes agonising 53-week wait is over with Rory McIlroy sensationally celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and silencing his critics with victory at the Players Championship.

McIlroy finally emerged a deserved winner posting very much an emotional roller-coaster 14 holes before birding both the 15th and 16th to go on to claim a one-shot success with a final round 70 for a 16-under par tally.

“It’s very special, I just tried to treat it as another day,” said a very happy McIlroy after he signed his card.

“All of those close calls this year were good for me, the misses gave me hope that I was on the right track and confidence to push forward again. Those experiences this year definitely lead me to this point and got me over the line today.”

“It’s a great start to the season, it’s a massive win to win an event like The Players but the way I played those last 3 holes under pressure gives me so much more confidence going forward.”

McIlroy denied last year’s losing US Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk, who stormed home under overcast skies to post an eight-under par 64 for a 15-under tally.

McIlroy went into the final day sharing second place on 14-under par and knowing that seven of his 14 PGA Tour victories have come when he had not been leading ahead of day four. However, McIlroy’s best finish in nine prior Players appearances was a T6th in 2014, while his only other top-10 was a year later in sharing eighth place.

It was a horror start for a second day running for McIlroy when he made a total hash of the par-4 fourth hole sending his second shot into water guarding the green before eventually three-putting for a double-bogey ‘6’. He clawed one back when he landed his 113-yard second shot at the par-4 sixth hole close but was back to two-over for the day and dropped to tied fourth in bogeying the seventh.

Then for a second time in three rounds McIlroy birdied the par-5 ninth to head to the ‘business end’ of the $US 12.5m event at 13-under and just one shot off the lead, where he kick started the final day. He parred the 10th, with those around starting to look shaky, and then stepped-up to find the 11th green after having sent his tee shot into a fairway bunker and then two-putted from 30-feet for birdie and get back into a share of second at 14-under.

There were then calls of; ‘Here comes Rory’ when, after missing the green right at the 12th green, he chipped to 11-feet and sensationally holed the birdie putt to move into the lead at 15-under par. A par followed at 13 but with McIlroy again giving his fans further grey hairs in sticking his second into a greenside trap and failing to get up and down in taking a second bogey of the day.

Then for a second time on his inward half McIlroy found a fairway but this time off the 15th tee, he superbly landed his second to 13-feet and then to the absolute delight of his fans, and with plenty of Irish in the crowd, the putt dropped so that McIlroy was to 15-under and back into the lead.

“The birdie on 12 was huge for me to get me some momentum and then to get the birdie on 15 after the dropped shot on 14 was massive,” added McIlroy.

And the Ulsterman’s fifth birdie of the day came just moments before Furyk birdied the last in a round of 67 to snatch the clubhouse lead at 15-under par. The roar around the par-5 16th said it all with McIlroy incredibly sending his 173-yard second shot to 19-feet and while just missing an eagle ‘3’ he comfortably holed out for birdie and go to 16-under.

McIlroy was now staring at just two-holes left to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in ending a 53-week victory absence and also become the first Irishman to lift the ‘new’ Players victory trophy. One in front, two holes to play and a long-overdue 15th Tour victory at his fingertips McIlroy didn’t disappoint, grabbing a pair of pars for his biggest career win since September 2016 in capturing the Tour Championship.

The win moves McIlroy up to world number 4 and is his 15th PGA Tour triumph, his 24th worldwide and comes with the Masters just a month away.

“It’s very nice to get a win under my belt before Augusta and it’s taken me a few weeks to get my game to this point. I do feel I am playing some of the best and most consistent golf of my career so far and I am looking forward to keep going with it and doing the same things,” added McIlroy.

“I’ve been preaching perspective, and I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on that perspective. It’s another step in the right direction. It’s a huge tournament to win. I’m very proud and very honoured, but it’s just a step in the right direction. Everything was in a really good place, and that’s why I was just preaching patience, and I felt it was just a matter of time. Easier said than done obviously, but I think having that attitude let me go out there this week after the disappointment of Bay Hill on Sunday, that’s the great thing about golf, you can get straight back on the horse and you have another opportunity the very next week, and not a lot of sports or sports people have that luxury.””I know I’m playing well. I know I’m shooting the scores and hitting the shots, it’s just a matter of doing it for 72 holes.”

Seamus Power brilliantly put his name into Players Championship history with a maiden PGA hole-in-one on Saturday. Power headed out on day four to post a three-under par 68 that included three birdies over his closing seven holes for an eventual five-under par tally and a well-earned top-40 finish, winning him just over $60,000 and more importantly 16 FedEx cup points as he looks to get his season on track.

Power was soon heading the 320km four-hour+ drive south-east to Tampa to prepare for Thursday’s starting Valspar Championship where he will join Graeme McDowell tackling the course famed for the ‘Snake Pit’.

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