McIlroy's cavaliering charge shows why he is in a league of his own
Rory McIlroy claimed his two career Majors – to date – with record-breaking processions that made the game look easy.
Yesterday, in the DP World Tour Championship, the world number one showed he could do drama as well as he reeled off a breath-taking five successive birdies over the finishing five holes to close out with a final round 66 for 265, 23-under-par, which gave him a two-stroke winning margin over Justin Rose.
In the Ryder Cup, McIlroy had been something of an onlooker when his European team colleague Ian Poulter had performed similar heroics in their Saturday fourballs win over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, which provided the impetus for the team’s final day heroics in overcoming the United States for victory.
On this occasion, McIlroy’s feat enabled the world number one to wrap up what he termed an “unbelievable” year – in which he topped the money lists on both the European Tour and the US Tour – with a fifth tournament win and allowed him to stay ahead of his European team-mate Rose, who closed with a record-breaking 62 in the final round over the Earth course in Dubai.
On any other days, Rose’s final round would have stolen the show. Not here, not at this time. For, again, it was all about McIlroy – who had started the round in a share of the lead with Luke Donald but slipped to two shots behind Rose going into the final stretch – who responded to the roars from ahead as Rose made his cavaliering charge by reeling off birdies at the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes to demonstrate why he is in a league of his own these days.
McIlroy had sneaked a look at the leaderboard coming in and knew that Rose had reached 20-under par going to the last. The huge roars from the grandstands around the 18th green gave the Northern Irishman confirmation that Rose had got to 21 under and only served to give McIlroy more focus over the finishing stretch of holes.
The most important shot of all, in McIlroy’s estimation, was the five-iron tee-shot he hit to the treacherous par-three 17th.
“I was focused on the task at hand and knew I needed a few birdies coming in . . . the 17th you don’t think is a birdie chance. It was a tough pin, over 200 yards into the wind, and I hit a great five-iron (to six feet).”
With that birdie on the penultimate hole giving him a cushion, McIlroy – who hit a drive of 299 yards down the middle of the fairway on the last – opted to lay-up, and then hit his approach to 10 feet for a finishing birdie to cap off a marvellous round and a wonderful season.
McIlroy kick-started his run for home by chipping close on the long 14th, then pitched to three feet at the 15th, made a 20-footer on the 16th and went one ahead with that six-foot putt on the 17th.
Rose had done miraculously well to two-putt the par five last for birdie from around 100 feet, but McIlroy matched it to win by two, shooting 66 for 23 under.
By adding the title to his Race to Dubai crown McIlroy earned himself a combined €1,822,520 to set a new record for a single-season earnings with €5,519,117. It was his fifth victory during 2012, which included a second Major title at the US PGA – like the first by eight shots – and the same money list double on both sides of the Atlantic achieved by Donald last year.
Rose’s runner-up finish moved him to a career high on the world rankings, moving ahead of Lee Westwood.
McIlroy, just five years after turning professional, has put an iron grip on the world number one spot. What had he envisioned on joining the pro ranks? “I guess having a tour card, making enough money to make a living. I think I’ve done that. Apart from that, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how good I was going to be. I knew I had potential, but I didn’t know I could go this far.”
Now, he is the benchmark by which all others are judged. He is top of the pile.