ATLANTA — This year has made it easy to overlook Rory McIlroy’s four majors, 30 wins across four continents and two years at the world No. He was primarily regarded as the PGA Tour’s strongest voice and most steadfast defender in the clash against Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf.
So perhaps it was only fitting that an extremely turbulent year for the PGA Tour culminated on Sunday when McIlroy held his biggest prize.
He had the last word with his clubs.
Six shots from the start of the Tour championship, ten shots back after two holes, McIlroy recovered from a six-shot deficit in the final round against world No. 1 and finished with a 4-under 66 to defeat the to become a first three-time FedEx Cup winner.
“It’s been a tumultuous time, especially for the world of men’s professional golf,” he said. “I was right in the middle. I guess every opportunity I get I try to defend what I consider to be the best place in the world to play elite professional golf.
“It’s fitting in a way that I was able to do this today to cap off a year that has been very, very challenging and different.”
It came at the expense of Masters champion World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who birded four of six holes Sunday morning to end the storm-delayed third round at 66 and build a six-shot lead. Not even McIlroy, who birded the last two holes to get into the last group that morning, thought he had much of a chance.
But then Scheffler never found his groove again, missing fairways and greens and par putts. He made just one yardage in a final round of 73 and equaled the PGA Tour record by losing a six-shot lead in the final round.
“I just didn’t have a good start early on, but after that I grinded as hard as I could,” said Scheffler. “My swing wasn’t what it was the first few days of this week for some reason. ”
McIlroy had 17 under 263 for his raw score, the best of the week. He started at 4 under as number 7 and finished at 21 under to collect the $18 million bonus.
Sungjae Im fell behind with a double bogey on the 14th hole and still managed a 66 to share second place with Scheffler.
McIlroy called the final round a “spectacle,” and not just because of the pro-McIlroy crowd chanting his name along the final holes.
“Two of the best players in the world go head-to-head on the best tour,” he said.
McIlroy needed a lot of help from Scheffler, who was never behind until the 70th hole. Scheffler looked upset early, and McIlroy capitalized. With three straight birdies, he connected Scheffler on the seventh hole. And then it was a thrill until the end.
It was a stunning performance at East Lake that made two takes.
McIlroy potted a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th hole to tie the lead.
After overflying the green by about 20 yards, his pitch ran fast and went off the front of the green when he hit the pin and settled 7 feet away. He saved par. Scheffler blasted out of a bunker to just under 10 feet and missed, making a bogey that set him back for the first time all week.
Scheffler misjudged a 10-foot birdie chance of a tie on the 17th, sending the Tour championship to the final hole with $18 million at stake.
Scheffler’s 4 iron on the par 18 sailed short and straight into a bunker and shot across the green. McIlroy went left against the stands, took relief and came onto the green for an easy par.
“I wanted to win the season title,” said Scheffler. “I’ve had a really great year and I wanted to end it with a win here, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to do that.”
McIlroy won the 2016 FedEx Cup in a playoff. In 2019, he won the FedEx Cup again, the first year with a staggered start. This was perhaps the cutest of all, as a year the PGA Tour found itself in a nasty battle with LIV Golf, which has already attracted around two dozen players and is now part of an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
It was McIlroy who showed deep loyalty to the PGA Tour in recent years, as competing leagues came into view. And it was McIlroy, along with Tiger Woods, who chaired a momentous players-only gathering last week that led to significant changes for the Tour.
So, yes, that had an extra level of satisfaction. And no, he didn’t mind the burden he carried as the de facto voice of the tour.
“If you believe in something, you have to say it out loud, and I believe that very strongly. I really do,” McIlroy said. “I hate what it’s doing to the game of golf. I hate it.
“I think if you believe what you’re saying are the right things, you’re happy to stick your neck on the line.”
Even at the Tour championship, which is usually celebrated at the end of the year, there was talk all weekend of more defections in the coming days. The Daily Telegraph reported three weeks ago that British Open champion Cameron Smith would join LIV Golf and sources confirmed his anticipated move to ESPN.
Harold Varner III, Marc Leishman and Anirban Lahiri are also expected to leave, sources told ESPN. Cameron Tringale announced his decision on Twitter.
Still to be decided is Joaquin Niemann, whose manager said the Chilean golfer will discuss options with his father later on Sunday.
“Everyone on tour had a lot to deal with,” McIlroy said. “Even the guys who went to LIV had to deal with a lot. It was just a very turbulent era in our game. This is the best place in the world to play golf. It is the most competitive best player. It has the deepest fields. I don’t know why you want to play somewhere else.”
With all that speculation, what looked like a runaway Tour championship turned into a dynamic show. And in the end, the biggest voice on tour had her biggest trophy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34478364/rory-mcilroy-rallies-win-tour-championship-third-fedex-cup-title Rory McIlroy rallies to win Tour Championship, third FedEx Cup title