A triple-bogey start vanquished, Rory McIlroy captures the FedEx Cup
By Alan Blinder
On Thursday, his scorecard a shambles after only two holes at the Tour Championship, Rory McIlroy did not find himself thinking about golf’s comeback magicians or his fellow major champions.
Instead, he considered the example of a 20-year-old player, Joohyung Kim, also known as Tom Kim, who won the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, this month.
“He started with a quad and ended up going on to win the golf tournament,” McIlroy, who had opened his Tour Championship with a triple-bogey and a bogey, said then. “It is possible.”
So McIlroy proved it himself. Three days after he produced an instant debacle at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and six weeks after he faltered at the British Open, McIlroy orchestrated the largest final-round comeback in the history of the Tour Championship and defeated Scottie Scheffler by a stroke Sunday. Although McIlroy’s win did not end his eight-year drought in major tournaments, he earned $18 million, claimed his third FedEx Cup, a record, and allowed the PGA Tour to close a turbulent season by crowning a beloved stalwart as its champion.
“I just felt so close all year,” McIlroy said after his victory here, where Scheffler started with the tournament lead Thursday and held it until Sunday evening. “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, McIlroy added, “I went up against the best player in the world today and I took him down, and that’s got to mean something.”
Even though McIlroy trailed Scheffler by six strokes at the beginning of the fourth round, the final two holes of his third round — played Sunday morning because of Saturday’s weather in Atlanta — suggested he was in fighting form: He birdied both.
McIlroy started the final round with a bogey, but he made birdie on No. 3 to bring his score even. Starting with the fifth hole, he stitched together three consecutive birdies that would undergird a 32 on the front nine. Scheffler, McIlroy’s partner in the final pairing, had three bogeys in the first half of the fourth round, which he finished with a 3-over 73.
For as sure-footed as McIlroy so often seemed Sunday and for as wobbly as Scheffler sometimes was, McIlroy did not assume sole command of the leaderboard until the final putts at No. 16.
He might as well have on No. 15, though.
Thirty-one feet from the pin, McIlroy tapped the ball and then stood like a statue, his putter barely aloft as the ball broke to the left. Then it swung toward the hole, McIlroy stepping back — and willing, praying, something — a few steps before it rolled into the cup. McIlroy raised his right fist in jubilation as the crowd thundered its approval.
Scheffler made a bogey on the next hole and, at last, surrendered the solo lead.
“I really fought hard today; Rory just played a really good round of golf,” Scheffler said. “He made some key putts there at the end, and he definitely deserved to win.”
Scheffler finished in a tie for second with Sungjae Im. Xander Schauffele was two strokes behind them, and Max Homa and Justin Thomas finished tied for fifth, trailing McIlroy by four strokes.
In McIlroy, 33, the PGA Tour got a FedEx Cup winner who has been one of its fiercest loyalists during the year’s upheaval over LIV Golf, the new series that has lured top players with hundreds of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
The dramatics over LIV were hardly absent from Atlanta — McIlroy was paired Thursday and Friday with Cameron Smith, the British Open winner who has not publicly denied a British news media report that he intends to defect as soon as this week. But McIlroy’s win was a boon for an entrenched order that has lately been besieged.
“Everyone on tour has had to deal with a lot; even the guys that have went to LIV have had to deal with a lot,” McIlroy said before adding, a few moments later, “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.”
He could have been forgiven, of course, for thinking otherwise Thursday in the rain in Atlanta. But Sunday, he said his mind had “automatically” wandered to Kim’s resurrection in Greensboro.
“I could have easily thought the other way and thought: ‘I’ve got no chance now. What am I doing here?’” McIlroy said Sunday, when he shot a 66. “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.”
By a lone stroke, it was enough.