Rory McIlroy, the strongest voice for the PGA Tour in a tumultuous year, had the final say with his clubs Sunday when he rallied from six shots behind to win the Tour Championship and capture the FedEx Cup for the third time.
McIlroy won $18 million, pushing his PGA Tour earnings to over $26 million for the season. He closed with a 4-under 66 to overtake Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who made only one birdie in a 73.
Scheffler was hoping to cap off the best year in golf with the FedEx Cup title. Instead, his entry in the record book was tying a PGA Tour record for losing the largest 54-hole lead. The last one to do that was Dustin Johnson in 2017 at the HSBC Champions.
Sungjae Im fell back with a double bogey on the 14th hole and still managed a 66 to tie for second with Scheffler.
McIlroy referred to the final round as a “spectacle,” and not just because of the pro-McIlroy crowd that chanted his name along the closing holes.
“Two of the best players in the world going head-to-head for the biggest prize on the PGA Tour, and I hope everyone at home enjoyed that,” he said.
McIlroy needed plenty of help from Scheffler, the No. 1 seed, who began with a two-shot lead and never trailed until the 70th hole. Scheffler, who birdied four of six holes Sunday morning to finish the third round and build a six-shot lead, lost it in the first seven holes.
And then it was a nail-biter to the very end, a stunning afternoon at East Lake that turned on two shots.
McIlroy holed a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th hole to tie for the lead. After he flew the green by some 20 yards on the 16th, his pitch was running fast and headed off the front of the green when it hit the pin and settled 7 feet away.
He saved par. Scheffler blasted out of a bunker to just inside 10 feet and missed, making bogey that put him behind for the first time all week. Scheffler badly misread a 10-foot birdie chance on the 17th to tie, sending the Tour Championship to the final hole with $18 million on the line.
Scheffler’s 4-iron on the par-5 18th sailed short and right and into a bunker, and he blasted out over the green. McIlroy went left against the grandstand, took relief and got onto the green for an easy par.
Scheffler and Im each won $5.75 million.
“The money definitely didn’t creep into my mind. I wanted to win the season-long title,” Scheffler said. “I’ve had a really great year and I wanted to finish it off with a win here, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that.”
McIlroy won the FedEx Cup in 2016 in a playoff. He won the FedEx Cup again in 2019, the first year of a staggered start. But this might have been the sweetest of fall, coming off a year in which the PGA Tour has been in a nasty battle with Saudi-funded LIV Golf, which already has attracted some two dozen players and now is part of an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
It was McIlroy who has declared fierce loyalty to the PGA Tour over the last few years when rival leagues were coming into a view. And it was McIlroy who joined Tiger Woods in leading a momentous player-only meeting last week that led to significant changes ahead for the tour.
So, yes, this had an extra level of satisfaction.
“I believe in the game of golf. I believe in this tour, in particular. I believe in the players on this tour,” McIlroy said in the trophy presentation. “It’s the greatest place in the world to play golf, bar none, and I’ve played all over.”
Even at the Tour Championship, typically a celebration of the end of the year, there was talk all weekend of more defections coming in next few days. The Daily Telegraph reported three weeks ago that British Open champion Cameron Smith was leaving for LIV Golf, and renewed reports over the weekend confirmed as much.
Two people aware of the moves said Marc Leishman, Harold Varner III and Anirban Lahiri are leaving. They spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been announced. Cameron Tringale announced his decision on Twitter.
Still to be determined is Joaquin Niemann, whose manager said the Chilean would discuss the options with his father later Sunday.
“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. It’s just been a very tumultuous sort of era in our game,” McIlroy said. “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.”
With all that speculation, the Tour Championship that looked to be a runaway turned into a dynamic show. Most of that fell to Scheffler, who looked like different players when he returned Sunday morning and after a two-hour break before the final round.
He couldn’t get anything going and let four others into the game. Scheffler hit only nine of 18 greens in regulation.
McIlroy seized on the chance early with three straight birdies, the last one from 30 feet on No. 7 that led to pockets of cheers from corporate hospitality tents across the course.
Scheffler fought back, showing amazing grit without the game to go with it. He had three big par saves early on the back nine and took the lead for the last time when McIlroy missed the 14th green with a short iron from the fairway and made bogey.
McIlroy began the tournament six shots behind as the No. 7 seed. He opened with a tee shot out-of-bounds for a triple bogey and after another bogey, he was 10 behind before Scheffler even started. And at the end, the tour’s biggest voice had its biggest trophy.
Reporting by Associated Press.
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