East Lake on Sunday afternoon was witness to something even more notable than delivery of the richest prize in golf. Rory McIlroy’s bounce, Rory McIlroy’s swagger, is back. And with good reason; a season featuring recurring success has now seen the Northern Irishman claim the FedEx Cup. McIlroy will insist the value of that win, $15m, is not crucial to him – and at his level it is not – but to the watching world the cheque added ribbons to this triumph. McIlroy joins Tiger Woods as the only multiple winners of the FedEx Cup.
“I’m very proud of myself. I’m going to enjoy this one tonight,” said McIlroy while simultaneously delivering a smile which hinted at epic celebration. There will be for McIlroy’s best friend and caddie, Harry Diamond, too, a commonly underestimated influence in this team who now finds himself £1.5m richer. Sometimes the good guys win.
The handicapped start afforded to players in the season-ending Tour Championship had caused elements of screaming from afar. McIlroy delivered the last laugh; his overall score would have been sufficient to win even if the 30-man field had started level. McIlroy’s closing round of 66 meant a four-stroke success over Xander Schauffele, with the champion’s 18-under-par aggregate requiring the context of a 10-under-par position before a ball was struck. McIlroy’s third round of 68, completed on Sunday morning after the lightning chaos which brought disruption a day earlier, was his highest tally of the week. If missing the cut at the Open Championship hurt McIlroy – and all the evidence suggested it did – he has responded in emphatic fashion. The one downside, if one can be derived from such a lucrative scene, is that the Masters is still more than seven months away.
There were various strands of significance attached to McIlroy’s 17th PGA Tour win. The biggest was perhaps that he swatted aside Brooks Koepka, the world No 1 and his final-round playing partner. When the duo entered Sunday battle in Memphis at a World Golf Championship last month, Koepka prevailed pretty comfortably. This time McIlroy outscored Koepka by half a dozen round-four strokes. The 30-year-old did not appear remotely threatened. McIlroy also pointedly referenced 11 months ago at this venue, when he was afforded an unwanted front-row seat for Woods’s first success in five years.
“I didn’t enjoy that walk last year like everyone else did,” McIlroy said. “I played terribly. I got myself into the final group and never took the fight to Tiger. Going up against the No 1 player in the world today, he got one over on me in Memphis and I wanted to try to sort of get some revenge. The final round in Memphis hurt a little bit. I didn’t take it to Brooks at all.
“To play like that alongside Brooks and get the win, win the FedExCup, yeah, it’s awesome. It’s amazing how different things can be in a year.”
Koepka and McIlroy had been embroiled in a tense battle until the 7th, when the former lost a ball from a wayward drive. A first double-bogey in 142 holes, a remarkable statistic, followed. As McIlroy birdied and bravely saved par at the 8th, Koepka needed snookers. The opposite transpired; Koepka dropped shots on three holes in a row from the 12th with Schauffele now McIlroy’s biggest danger. Schauffele got within two as McIlroy had three to play but birdies for the winner on the 17th and 18th added gloss to a dominant performance.
At thirteen under, Koepka shared third with Justin Thomas. Paul Casey’s 72 left him fifth, with that over-par closing round not impacting on the Englishman’s willingness to wait to congratulate the champion, which was to his credit. Koepka displayed similar sportsmanship. “Rory played great golf, pretty much mistake free,” Koepka said. “It was impressive to watch. Hats off to him.” Next for Koepka, a five-week holiday. “I’m going to enjoy myself.”
Much earlier the PGA Tour had confirmed all individuals hurt after the lightning strike at the course on Saturday had been released from hospital. “We are deeply grateful that the injuries were not more serious,” said the Tour. A happy ending there and another, rich one, for McIlroy. Money does not have to be a key motivator for such huge purses to resonate.. But that distinctive bounce, which set McIlroy apart from all others even in his youth, lingered more.