HARTFORD, Conn. – The powers-that-be and REAL players on the PGA Tour had to be ecstatic that the popular, personable and straight-shooting Rory McIlroy rallied for improbable third Tour Championship and FedExCup titles Sunday at East Lake Golf Club in suburban Atlanta.
McIlroy, the strongest voice for the PGA Tour with Tiger Woods in its feud with the renegade, Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf, made a critical, curling 31-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole that elicited an emphatic fist pump and then closed with three pars for a 4-under-par 66, 72-hole total of 21-under 259 and one-stroke victory over No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Sungjae Im.
McIlroy and Woods led a players-only meeting at the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Del., the week before the Tour Championship aimed at the PGA Tour’s top players being more committed to more tournaments in the future while receiving more lucrative prize money and bonuses. Fittingly, McIlroy earned a record $18 million bonus for winning the season finale and finished fifth on the money list with $8,654,566.
Chants of “Ro-ry, Ro-ry, Ro-ry” followed McIlroy around the course as he won for the third time this year after finishing in the Top 10 in all four major championships, including second in the Masters and third in the Open Championship. But this was his most satisfying and sweetest victory in light of some PGA Tour players accepting guaranteed millions of dollars from a country with horrific human rights violations. McIlroy declared fierce loyalty to the PGA Tour the past few weeks and joined with Woods in leading the meeting that produced significant changes ahead.
“Everyone on Tour has had to deal with a lot,” said McIlroy, 33, who won the FedExCup in 2016 in a playoff and in 2019, the first year of the staggered start. “Even the guys that have went to LIV have had to deal with a lot. It’s just been a very tumultuous sort of era in the game, but probably of everyone in the field, I care least about the money.
“I believe in the game of golf. I believe in this tour in particular. I believe in the players on the tour. This is the best place in the world to play golf, bar none, and I’ve played all over. It’s the most competitive. It’s got the best players in the world. It’s got the deepest fields. I don’t know why you’d want to play anywhere else.”
McIlroy did take a friendly jab at LIV Golf when he said, “On the 70th hole is a nice time to take the lead of a golf tournament, or the 52nd hole if you play somewhere else.”
NBC-TV announcer Dan Hicks summed up Rory’s accomplishment when he said, “McIlroy has been the face of the PGA Tour with this tumultuous season. For Rory McIlroy to be in this position is an incredible feat.”
Especially when McIlroy had to EARN it, not have anything handed to him.
NBC commentator and two-time Greater Hartford Open champion Paul Azinger added, “He and Tiger put the Tour on their shoulders, on their backs. For him to play the way he has after he did that, in some ways, it actually elevated his game after taking on that bigger role.”
Golf Channel commentator Mark Rolfing was even more eloquent when he said, “Earlier this summer in one of the most tumultuous times we’ve ever seen in professional golf, (McIlroy) literally put his arms around the PGA Tour, lifted them up, put them on his shoulders and then he went out and won the Canadian Open with a final-round 62. Everything that he said about the PGA Tour was never going to mean as much unless he backed it up with the way he played, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence the way he’s played, and the fact that he finished the season the way he did today. … He was situationally motivated, that his words would be so much more powerful if he performed the way he did.”
McIlroy’s lengthy birdie putt on the difficult par-3 15th hole pulled him even with Scheffler for a third time after his terrible start on Thursday. Despite finishing the rain-delayed third round Sunday morning with 63, he was still six strokes back when Scheffler birdied four of the six holes that he had to finish to get to 23 under. McIlroy was tied for second with Travelers Championship winner and reigning gold medalist Xander Schauffele.
McIlroy took the lead for the first time all week when he made a 7-foot par putt on the 16th hole after a brilliant lob shot from behind the green following Scheffler’s missed 9-footer to save par. McIlroy had begun the week six strokes behind the No. 1-ranked Scheffler in a staggered start and fell 10 back when he opened with a triple bogey (first drive out of bounds) and bogey.
McIlroy and Scheffler missed good birdie chances on the 17th hole, but neither had legitimate bids on No. 18, enabling McIlroy to finish with the spectacular comeback win.
In classic classy McIlroy fashion, the Northern Irishman gave props to Scheffler, the only four-time PGA Tour winner this year, including the Masters.
“I feel Scottie deserves at least half of this,” McIlroy said while holding the FedExCup trophy as he stood on the 18th green during the awards presentation. “He had a helluva season, and I was just fortunate to clip him at the end. It was a real spectacle with two of the best players in the world going head-to-head on the Tour. He definitely deserves to be the Player of the Year.”
McIlroy gave himself some credit for surviving his horrific start to his week.
“Incredible day, incredible week,” McIlroy said. “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.”
All this was a move of the pre-eminent tour in the world to continue to evolve to better serve its players, fans, sponsors and media partners and combat the LIV Golf Series, which is handing out lucrative amounts of money for events with only 48 players, 54 holes, no cuts and shotgun starts. The fourth of eight LIV Golf events is Friday through Sunday at The International in Bolton (not Boston, as advertised), Mass., and it will be hard-pressed to come anywhere close to any of the three FedExCup playoff events.
Scheffler (73) and Im (66) each earned $5,750,000 for their tie for second at 260, one ahead of Schauffele, who closed with 69 and won $4 million. Max Homa (66) and Justin Thomas (68) tied for fifth at 262 and received $2,750,000.
“I put myself in position to win when I wasn’t playing my best, so I’m proud of how I fought,” said Scheffler, who earned a record $14,046,910 this season. “I hit the ball really well but for whatever reason, I couldn’t get enough (birdie) looks. I had good momentum after finishing the third round strong, then we had a long delay and I just didn’t get off to a good start early (in the final round). For whatever reason, my swing wasn’t where it had bene the first few days. Today, the money definitely didn’t creep into my mind. I wanted to win the season-long title. I’ve had a really great year, and I wanted to finish it off with win and unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that. But at the end of the day, it’s such a gift to be out here playing golf for money. I’m just so thankful to be out here.”