McIlroy laps up winning finale

Rory McIlroy (left) reacting after winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup play-offs as Brooks Koepka looks on at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday. McIlroy finished the tournament at 18 under par to grab the US$15 million wi
Rory McIlroy (left) reacting after winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup play-offs as Brooks Koepka looks on at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday. McIlroy finished the tournament at 18 under par to grab the US$15 million winner's purse. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Northern Irishman banks in biggest cash prize, is second two-time winner after Woods

ATLANTA (Georgia) • The crowd rushing to circle the 18th green. The steady chants. It all sounded so familiar to Rory McIlroy at East Lake, with one big difference.

On Sunday, it was all for him.

One year after being an overlooked bystander as Tiger Woods celebrated the first silverware of his comeback at the Tour Championship, McIlroy surged past Brooks Koepka and delivered a clutch par putt when he needed it to win the FedEx Cup and the US$15 million prize (S$20.8 million), the biggest payout in golf history.

"It's amazing how different things can be in a year," he said.

The season finale turned on the 490-yard seventh, a straightforward par-four.

McIlroy lashed a 334-yard drive, hit his approach to 23 feet and sank the birdie putt.

Koepka, who was up by two, lost his ball and had a double bogey that scuttled his hopes. He rebounded with a birdie at the par-four eighth, but lost ground on the back nine with three straight bogeys.

With two birdies, McIlroy closed with a four-under 66 to tie with sixth-placed Adam Scott for the low score - ending a 31-hole marathon day on 18 under and four shots ahead of Xander Schauffele.

Play had been suspended on Saturday as lightning struck a pine tree and injured six people standing near it. Third-round play finished only on Sunday morning, with McIlroy tied for second with Schauffele, one behind Koepka on 15 under.

The 25-year-old Schauffele, who won the Tour Championship in 2017 to win the Rookie of the Year award, birdied the second to briefly grab a share of the lead. But a bogey two holes later slowed his charge.

McIlroy added to his 2016 triumph to join Woods (2007 and 2009) as the only the two-time winner of the FedEx Cup play-offs which began in 2007.

He smiled at hearing the chants, "Rory! Rory! Rory!" from a gallery that came under the ropes on the 18th hole to watch the finish.

"I must say, I didn't enjoy that walk last year like everyone else did," McIlroy said.

"I never took the fight to Tiger."

He had more on his mind than the winner's purse of US$15 million, up from US$10 million this year.

He wanted to win this outright and was keeping score to the very end. His actual score of 13-under 267 was also better than anyone in the 30-man field.

The format was changed this year to give top players a head start based on par depending on their Cup standings. Justin Thomas was the top seed and started at 10 under before a shot was hit. McIlroy, the fifth seed, started at five under.

The Northern Irishman has risen to world No. 2 behind the American Koepka, who closed with a 72 to tie for third with Thomas and muddle the Player of the Year picture.

Koepka has three victories, which include a World Golf Championships event (Bridgestone Invitational) and his fourth Major, the PGA Championship. He was top four in the other three Majors.

McIlroy's three victories included Sunday's season finale and the PGA Tour's signature event, the Players Championship. He has two top 10s at the Majors, the PGA Championship and US Open.

He said on Wednesday that a victory should earn him Player of the Year consideration, given that it would be his 14th top-10 finish in 19 Tour starts. Koepka has nine top 10s in 20 appearances.

In an interview on the 18th green after his final putt, he said: "I feel like I could have won more.

"But to win the FedEx Cup again, to persist the whole way throughout the year, to keep giving myself chances even when I was getting knocked back and not be denied, I'm very proud of myself."

ASSOCIATED PRESS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2019, with the headline 'McIlroy laps up winning finale'. Print Edition | Subscribe