From the depths of frustration, Rory McIlroy has re-energised his season to the extent that his victory in the Deutsche Bank championship in Boston – where he overcame a six-shot deficit on Paul Casey at the start of the final round to win by two – has catapulted him into the mix for the $10 million bonus that awaits the winner of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoff series.
Typical of McIlroy too that his putting, which has plagued him all season, was transformed into a strength.
The Northern Irish man – who started working with putting expert Phil Kenyon recently which was almost an act of desperation to rescue a season hampered week in and week out by a misbehaving putter – was rock solid with the prototype Scotty Cameron mallet as he fashioned a closing 65 for a total of 269, 15-under-par, to claim a second title of the season to go with his Irish Open success.
When McIlroy last won the Deutsche Bank championship in 2012, he brought that momentum with him to also claim the BMW championship the following week before being usurped by Brandt Snedeker in the Tour Championship and also for the megabucks bonus.
This time, McIlroy is aiming to bring the momentum all the way to the Tour Championship and to put the icing on the cake by claiming the playoff title. The win in Boston has jumped him from 38th on the FedEx Cup standings up to fourth, with just the BMW and Tour Championship to go.
“It is one of the last things I want on my CV is to win the FedEx Cup. I have won Race to Dubais and I have won order of merits and been a money winner on the PGA Tour but never lifted the FedEx Cup itself,” McIlroy said.
“The next two tournaments are good for me to try and do that. I will try and ride this momentum through to the Tour Championship and then hopefully once I do well there, maybe win the FedEx Cup, then turn my attention to the Ryder Cup.”
This latest victory was unlikely on a number of counts, given he laboured in his first round on Friday and was four-over through only three holes. And, then, having recovered to make a charge over the weekend, McIlroy still went into the final round playing catch-up on Casey. He had closed the gap by the eighth hole to tie for the lead – where he went to school on a putt that Louis Oosthuizen had on a similar line. A 10-footer on the ninth for his third straight birdie put him clear. He never relinquished the lead.
McIlroy had seven birdies and a lone bogey in a round of 65 which was played in difficult, windy conditions. Casey struggled to a closing 73 for 27 to finish alone in second with US PGA champion Jimmy Walker a shot further back in third.
Where McIlroy ranked 77th in putting in last week’s Barclays Championship in a season where the putter had been his weakest club, the transformation since working with Kenyon was almost immediate as he was ranked third in putting in the Deutsche Bank where he was also ranked first in driving and, most importantly of all, finished with the lowest score.
Winning hadn’t been on his mind after a difficult opening three holes of a first round where it seemed a battle to survive the cut was uppermost in his thoughts.
“A lot of things went through my mind but 69 holes later, 19-under-par after those first three holes, I have played some great golf and held some great putts,” McIlroy said.
“I’m just really proud of myself the way I hung in there that first day and then to get some momentum on Saturday and just go with it. It is nice to get that first win in the States this year and hopefully this momentum I can obviously bring on to the next couple of weeks and ultimately the Ryder Cup to help team Europe win another.”
Of the improvement in his putting, McIlroy said it was still “a work in progress. You start to see lines better and you get into a little bit more of a flow and you’re not quite as static over the ball and your thoughts are more fluid and everything just sort of frees up a little bit . . . I have seen some really good signs, excited going into last part of the season.”