Golf: Patience does the job for McIlroy

Rory McIlroy's first title of the year puts him in good stead for next month's Masters, where a win would make him the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam and the second this century after Tiger Woods.
Rory McIlroy's first title of the year puts him in good stead for next month's Masters, where a win would make him the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam and the second this century after Tiger Woods.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ulsterman fancies his Masters chances after finding killer instinct with Sawgrass victory

MIAMI • The Players Championship is not the most high-profile victory of Rory McIlroy's career, but it is without doubt among the most significant.

A series of near misses had led to questions regarding his ability or hunger, even though he will turn 30 only in May.

The response, pressed home with grit and composure, arrived at the PGA Tour's marquee event.

McIlroy's golfing journey, which has already delivered so much, had another pivotal moment as he makes final preparations for a fresh tilt at a Grand Slam of Majors.

After ending a year-long winless drought on Sunday to claim his first title this year, he fired a warning shot to his competitors that it was his aim to "make the next 10 years even better than the previous 10 years".

On Sunday at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, he closed with a two-under 70 to finish on 16-under 272, one ahead of Jim Furyk (67), and two in front of Eddie Pepperell (66) and Jhonattan Vegas (66).

Third-round leader Jon Rahm struggled to a 76 and ended up in a four-way tie for 12th at 11 under.

STAYING GROUNDED

My previous experiences this year helped me to play really well down the stretch. I desperately wanted the win, but it's just another day. It's just another step in the journey.

RORY MCILROY , on ending a year-long winless drought at the Players Championship on Sunday.

The victory was McIlroy's 15th on the Tour, and his second in two years on St Patrick's Day weekend, and he is already turning his attention to the April 11-14 Masters.

Having already won four of the five biggest events in golf, a victory at Augusta National would make him the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam and the second this century after Tiger Woods.

The Northern Irishman, who won his last Major in 2014, firmly believes he has "a great chance" at the Masters, having learnt not to tie his self-identity to his scores.

If nothing else, Sunday's victory will silence the critics who had observed that McIlroy, for all his consistency, had appeared to have lost the closer's instinct, after finishing in the top six in his first six starts this year.

"Even with some noise around me, 'He can't close, he can't play on Sundays, blah, blah, blah', I've just got to do my thing," he said. "If I go and I concentrate on me, control what I can do, good golf and good attitude take care of the rest.

"One thing I used to do in the past is I'd let what I shot that day influence who I was, or my mood. It's something I've worked hard on because who I am as a person isn't who I am as a golfer."

His 70 included two birdies in the closing four holes, and his drive and approach to the treacherous 18th looked like a dictionary definition of fortitude.

"I stayed patient. My previous experiences this year helped me to play really well down the stretch. I desperately wanted the win, but it's just another day. It's just another step in the journey," he said.

Meanwhile, former world No. 1 Woods rounded out his week with a three-under 69 which left him six under for the tournament and among a quintet at 30th.

However, the 14-time Major winner, whose next outing will come at the March 27-31 WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay in Austin, Texas, insisted that his Masters preparations were "right on track".

NY TIMES, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2019, with the headline 'Patience does the job for McIlroy'. Print Edition | Subscribe