PONTE VEDRA BEACH– As Rory McIlroy walked to the first tee for his final round at the PLAYERS Championship, familiar questions swirled. Can Rory close in the final round and win a tournament? He’s been close before, but can he hit quality shots down the stretch?
Amidst the theatrics down the stretch, which consisted of long putts made on the Island Green 17th by Jhonattan Vegas and Eddie Pepperell, and Jim Furyk’s birdie on 18, McIlroy stayed patient and clutch. With two birdies on 15 and 16, and surviving the 17th and 18th holes with pars, McIlroy would secure the PLAYERS Championship, an extraordinary feat that is matched with his four major championships.
“I’m just really proud of myself, the way I played the last few holes, especially after bogeying the 14th from the middle of the fairway,” said McIlroy. “The second shot on 15 to set up that birdie putt was the best shot of the day by far. And then how I played the last few holes, I birdied 16, kept telling myself on the way to the 17th tee, just make three more good swings. That’s all you need to do, make a good swing in here, two good swings at the last, and this thing is yours, and to step up and make those three good swings, it’s very satisfying knowing that it’s in there when it needs to be. Very proud, very honored to be able to call myself a PLAYERS champion, a tournament I haven’t won before, so great to obviously add to the CV.”
McIlroy Battles Inner Demons with Effective Final Round
There is no doubt that McIlroy is one of the best golfers in the world. Earlier in his career, Rory was defined by strong peaks and deep troughs. Now, the Northern Irishman is the model for consistency, transforming into one of the most effective drivers of the ball in golf.
“I think it’s been having a focus over the last six or seven months on my attitude, especially my attitude to golf, and not letting golf define who I am as a person, trying to keep the two things very separate,” states McIlroy. “I think that’s been the big difference between the highs and lows of the last few years and the more consistent play, even over the last 12 months. I’ve had two wins in the last 12 months, but even the play in between that has been pretty good, top 5s, top 10s, given myself a chance most weeks.”
McIlroy has not won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla. He was in the final group at last year’s Masters with Patrick Reed, only to shoot a final round 74 that would knock him out of contention. Coming into the PLAYERS Championship, McIlroy had five top-10 finishes, including a runner up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the week before. All these tournaments, Rory was in contention. But failed to get over the hurdle to win.
Doubts could have crept in for McIlroy during his final round performance. He got a double-bogey six on the fourth hole. He would drop a shot at the 14th and put his tee shot on 15 into the fairway bunker. McIlroy would stay mentally tough, conquering his inner demons to birdie holes 15 and 16.
McIlroy Solidifies Case for Hall of Fame Status
As he made the long walk to his ball at 15, no doubts or demons crept into McIlroy’s mind.
“No doubts crept in at all,” affirmed McIlroy. “I was just trying to focus on the next shot. I was just thinking about, okay, I’ve put myself out of position on this hole, how can I get myself back into position.”
It is that type of fortitude that propelled McIlroy into the winner’s circle at TPC Sawgrass. It would be McIlroy’s 15th win on the PGA Tour, adding a PLAYERS Championship to the marquee wins he has had in the past, such as his four major championships. McIlroy would lead the field in par-3 scoring average (2.69), Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (13.262) and finish second in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (5.309).
With six starts where he has not finished lower than a tie for sixth, the strong, consistent play of Rory McIlroy is here to stay. With a career worthy of Hall of Fame status, the golfing world better watch out for Rory McIlroy’s performance when the major championships occur. Especially given he demonstrated his affinity to stay cool under pressure in the adverse moments.
“I think having that attitude let me go out there this week after the disappointment of Bay Hill on Sunday, and I said, that’s the great thing about golf, you can get straight back on the horse and you have another opportunity the very next week, and not a lot of sports or sports people have that luxury,” says McIlroy. “So I just wanted to take advantage of it. I know I’m playing well. I know I’m shooting the scores and hitting the shots, it’s just a matter of doing it for 72 holes.”