McIlroy leads Irish one-two in PGA Championship
Ulster man closes the deal with superb 66 and Shane Lowry is just one shot behind
Rory McIlroy tees off on the 17th hole, where he would make another birdiie and eventually claim victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Perhaps the stars were aligned in his favour. In a final round of unscripted drama in the European Tour’s showpiece event, Rory McIlroy – and the rest of the cast – delivered pure box office which, when the curtain was finally drawn, left the 25-year-old from Co Down holding the BMW PGA Championship trophy in his hands. He had earned it.
In driving through the gates of the Wentworth estate yesterday, McIlroy had brought a figure in his head of what was needed. When he got out of the car and felt the wind blowing, he recalculated. The number would not be so low as the 62 or a 63 he initially predicted. Leapfrog As it transpired, a wonderfully constructed 66 – for a 72-hole total of 274, 14-under-par – enabled him to leapfrog those above him and become the first Irish golfer since Harry Bradshaw in 1958 to claim the title.
If Thomas Bjorn had arrived at the first tee with a seemingly insurmountable lead – five clear of Luke Donald, six ahead of Shane Lowry and seven ahead of McIlroy – the whimsical West Course took turns to torment and captivate her suitors.
And, of them all, McIlroy was the chosen one, delivering a tour de force on the home stretch, birdieing five of the last nine holes, to earn his first career win on European soil as a professional.
How did it happen? Well, McIlroy was thankful the heavy rain that doused the course throughout the week took away much of its fire. There were no strange and wonderful kicks from fairways into the rough, and the greens were far more receptive. And, as he went about his own business, others suffered their share of travails.
Indeed, Bjorn looked as if he was carrying the worries of the world on his shoulders as his lead had dwindled to nothing by the time he left the sixth green. A bogey on the fifth was followed by a triple-bogey on the par-four seventh, where Bjorn’s tee shot found a fairway bunker and, after his first attempt to escape clipped the top of the trap and rolled back to his feet, he ran up a seven that took the wind from his sails.
On the other side of that sixth fairway, Donald had troubles of his own. The Englishman – a winner here in 2011 and again in 2012 – had pushed his tee shot into the trees, was forced to take a penalty drop and, like Bjorn, would also run up a triple bogey seven.
Unlike Bjorn, Donald would rebound by covering the remaining 12 holes in five-under, including two chip-ins for birdies, that kept him in the mix until late in the game. Irishmen The two dominant characters proved to be two Irishmen: McIlroy and Lowry. And, for a long time, it was Lowry who seemed to have the upper hand.
The Offaly golfer – like McIlroy in the pairing ahead – eagled the par-five fourth and then rolled in a 10-footer for birdie on the fifth.
A dropped shot on the ninth was followed by three successive birdies for a three-shot lead.
On this course, though, favours are dispensed with one hand and taken with the other.
On the 13th, a loose tee-shot resulted in Lowry’s ball finishing in a bush. He considered attempting to chop the ball out, but made the wiser decision to take his medicine and a penalty drop. A double-bogey six and, suddenly, it was game on.
“I know I’m going to be sitting in my hotel room tonight and what happened on 13 is going to be going through my head,” Lowry would later confess. In fairness to him, his response was admirable: he birdied the 14th only to hand another shot back to the course when, adrenaline pumping, he overshot his approach to the 15th and failed to get up and down.
His birdie attempt on the 17th edged the cup, and by the time he rolled in a 50-footer on the 18th, he knew the title was McIlroy’s.
The Ulster man, to his credit, had played the shots and answered the hard questions. His back nine started with a chip-in for birdie on the 10th and, believing this was his time to finally conquer a course that had frustrated and tormented him through the years, he added further birdies on the 12th, 13th and, critically, the 17th and 18th.
And when he got into trouble, his short game saved him, most notably an exquisite pitch over a bunker to 18 inches to save par on the 14th. The birdie-birdie finish put him out of sight, for his first win on the European Tour in 18 months and first anywhere since the Australian Open last December. ‘Sort of meant to be’ So, did he believe the stars had aligned? “You know, with everything that happened; with Thomas and Luke making mistakes on the front nine, and even Shane making the double on 13 and the bogey on 15, I just seemed to be cruising along and it seemed like it was sort of meant to be in some strange way,” said McIlroy.