McIlroy draws first blood

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland with the FedExCup and Tour Championship trophies, after his victory over Ryan Moore with a birdie on the fourth extra hole in the final round at East Lake Golf Club on Sunday. Despite mind games from the Americans, Eu
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland with the FedExCup and Tour Championship trophies, after his victory over Ryan Moore with a birdie on the fourth extra hole in the final round at East Lake Golf Club on Sunday. Despite mind games from the Americans, Europe are the team with momentum.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He captures Tour C'ship, US$10m FedExCup prize in strong Ryder Cup statement to US

EAST LAKE (Georgia) • Rory McIlroy delivered the most powerful Ryder Cup message to the United States yet, with a dramatic success at the Tour Championship on Sunday which also ensured the Northern Irishman claimed the US$10 million (S$13.6 million) FedExCup prize.

At the start of Ryder Cup week, Europe are the side with momentum. With the purses added together, McIlroy departed Georgia US$11.5 million richer than when he arrived.

After a final round of six-under 64 at East Lake to total 268, McIlroy prevailed over Ryan Moore in what was the fourth sudden-death play-off hole.

As the Northern Irishman converted from 15 feet for a birdie, days before taking his place in the European team at Hazeltine, their captain Darren Clarke surely joined in the celebrations.

Clarke will inherit a McIlroy brimming with confidence and, once more, holing putts which count.

For the world No. 3, this means a second success on the PGA Tour within a month and taking delivery of the FedExCup for the first time.

The latter had been a stated ambition of his at the beginning of this year.

Had Moore, who also had a 64 to total 268, emerged victorious from the play-off - which had also included Kevin Chappell (66) for one hole - then world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, who carded a 73 and tied for sixth with a 275 total, would have won that aggregate prize.

The bigger picture related to Hazeltine, as McIlroy would have been perfectly well aware.

The Northern Irishman's day had rather trundled along before an epic moment on the 16th during regulation play.

There the 27-year-old holed out from 137 yards for eagle.

The demonstrated euphoria was as turbo-charged as McIlroy has ever produced. This served as a reminder that, when in his finest touch, he is the best entertainer in the sport.

Yet, he still had work to do, with Chappell holding a two-shot lead with only two holes to play.

The world No. 27 was to bogey the 17th, with McIlroy erasing the remaining shortfall courtesy of a birdie on the 72nd green which concluded a back nine of 30.

On the last hole, McIlroy played a sumptuous greenside bunker shot to tap-in range.

Moore displayed tenacity during the play-off but had no answer to McIlroy's three on the 16th.

The duo had traded both birdies and pars during the earlier holes.

For a spell there was a genuine concern: Whereas McIlroy was regarded as the favourite, he also carried a record of four defeats in four earlier play-off appearances on the European and PGA Tours.

The sense that another such scenario might fall against him had been endorsed by missed opportunities to win in the first two knockout holes.

He was ultimately not to be denied, though.

"It was incredible," said McIlroy, who with this victory won US$13.81 million in the play-offs. "The holed shots from the fairway, it is part skill, but there's an epic part of luck in there as well, and I took advantage of it.

"A lot of things had to go right for me today, and they did. "Everything fell into place."

Johnson had started day four tied for the lead with Chappell. The US Open champion was to slip surprisingly to a 73, leaving his FedExCup dreams in the hands of others.

"Obviously Rory played really great," said Johnson. "So obviously hats off to him. He earned it and he deserves it."

The GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'McIlroy Draws First Blood'. Print Edition | Subscribe