Perfect St Patrick’s Day for McIlroy as he claims Players’ Championship
Irishman turns on the style on back nine to reach 16 under and and pip veteran Jim Furyk by one shot
Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the eighth tee during the final round of The Players Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
No luck of the Irish required, no rub of the green. In making it a St Patrick’s Day to remember, Rory McIlroy created all of his own good fortune with a brilliant display of shot-making to end his winless drought by claiming The Players championship at TPC Sawgrass and scooping the €2 million winner’s cheque.
On a cool Floridian day, more reminiscent of home than he’d perhaps have liked, the 29-year-old Northern Irishman remained calm and collected to escape a packed final round leaderboard; in the end, McIlroy – almost a year to the day since his last win on tour in the Arnold Palmer Invitational – shot a closing round 70 for a winning total of 16-under-par 272.
It was far from plain sailing for McIlroy, who’d started the day a stroke behind Spaniard Jon Rahm. As early as the fourth hole, McIlroy was forced onto the back foot with a double bogey six – where he put his approach into the water – that must have made him wonder if it would be one of those final day endurances that have blighted him for much of the past year.
But it didn’t turn out like that at all this time around.
McIlroy covered the front nine in 37 strokes but reserved his best golf for the homeward run. Unquestionably, a well-crafted birdie on the ninth gave him a renewed pep on his step as he entered that back nine and it produced some wonderful play that resulted in birdies on the 11th, 12th, 15th and 16th. His lone bogey came on the 14th.
With Jim Furyk, at the age of 48, rekindling much of his former glory – firing a closing round 67 for 273 – to finish runner-up, and others, among them, Eddie Pepperell and Jonny Vegas making unimaginable putts on the famous Par 3 17th hole – the Englishman sinking a 50-footer for birdie, only to be outdone a short time later by Vegas who defied logic and all of the twists and turns of the devious green to hole a 72 footer – there was an air of composure and self-assurance about McIlroy’s journey to victory.
McIlroy, who moves to the Masters next month with the opportunity to join an exclusive club of Grand Slam champions, claimed The Players in style, his birdies on the 15th and 16th proving critical.
Although his drive on the 15th found a fairway bunker down the right, the compacted sand ensured he got a clean contact as his approach finished 13 feet from the flag. He rolled in the putt.
“To get that birdie was massive,” he said later.
Then, on the Par 5 16th, McIlroy’s drive – a fade of 347 yards – left him with 178 yards to the flag. A number of players, among them Adam Scott, had found water in the groups ahead of him.
But McIlroy’s eight-iron approach was an assured one, finishing 18 feet from the pin. He failed to convert the eagle putt, but tapped in a for a birdie which would prove to be the decisive birdie as he parred 17th and 18th to close the deal.
McIlroy’s 15th win on the PGA Tour justified his assertions that patience was the key to making a return to the winner’s enclosure.
“It is very special. I just tried to treat it like another day even though I had all those close calls this year. If anything, they were good for me. It gave you more hope to go forward and go again . . ..ultimately they were good for me,” said McIlroy of using all of his near-misses this season as inspiration.
“It is very nice to get a win, especially doing it on this golf course, a course that played a little bit similar to how Augusta will play in a few weeks time. I can take a lot from this. I feel like I am playing the best golf of my life right now and I just need to keep going with it and keep doing the same things,” said McIlroy.
The hex of being paired in the final group befell Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood, as the two – out-of-sorts from the get-go – who were joined together in the agony of dropping from main characters to minor roles in the drama which unfolded on a dramatic final day’s play.
Séamus Power – overcoming a recent poor run of form – enjoyed a strong finishing round, shooting a 69 for five-under-par 283 which left him in tied-35th.
For Tiger Woods, there would be no last round charge. Woods – who had four birdie in his first 11 holes – signed for a final round 69 for 282 which left him in tied-30th.
“I’m frustrated at lipping more putts out than I think I have in a very long time, just one of those weeks where nothing really got rolling enough to get me going,” said Woods, who has decided not to play this week’s Valspar championship and will fine-tune for the Masters at the following week’s WGC-Dell Matchplay in Austin, Texas.