One cannot discuss the future of the PGA Tour this season without having Rory McIlroy’s name on their lips. On Sunday at the 2022 Tour Championship, McIlroy stated that he is an integral part of the present. Despite trailing by as much as 10 shots at East Lake Golf Club in the final event of the FedEx Cup qualifiers, McIlroy (-21) rallied Sunday to grab world number 1 golfer Scotty Scheffler, becoming the first three-time winner in FedEx Cup history and cashing in. The first place prize of $18 million that comes with the trophy.
Unlike some tournaments where he’s digging himself into a hole he needs to fight from – which he certainly did by starting the event with a triple bogey on Thursday – McIlroy was on the conversation right from the start in East Lake with his 67sec post. In consecutive rounds to unlock play. However, it was the ninth of Round Three that he wrapped up early on Sunday that made him a real contender as Rory Bird punched three of his last six holes for a 63 card and places alongside Schaeffler in the final pairing as he pressed the team. The 54-hole lead despite being short by six strokes.
“I’ve been in the last group here three of the past five years,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t give myself a lot of chances in going out today. Six behind them, I thought it would be really hard to make up. But [between] My good game and Scotty’s not-so-great play, it was a ball game in the ninth line of defense.”
McIlroy’s fourth round started with a bogey, but he pulled out even with Scheffler after the Texans put a three bogey on his scorecard in the first six holes. With McIlroy turning five birds across the first 12 holes, the race was official as the two came around the turn. Another bogey on the 14th pushed McIlroy back behind Schaeffler, but Rory immediately responded by hitting a stunning 31-foot birdie on the 15th which sent the crowd into a rush and sat him back in a tie atop the leaderboard.
This was the fourth and sixteenth part where McIlroy almost fell back. Sitting in the vault of a bunker after his second shot, his third flew over the green about 30 yards. However, Rory’s ensuing chip hit the pennant, and Scheffler missed his equal shot and McIlroy saved the tie to take the singles lead and become the first golfer to wrestle the lead away from Scheffler this week.
Driving a stroke on the 18th, McIlroy watched as Scheffler found a bunker to follow only by bouncing his approach from the runway to the bumpy. When Schaeffler airmailed the green with his third shot from the vault, that left McIlroy an option to play conservatively into the middle of the green and two hits on the FedEx Cup crown.
“I feel like Scotty deserves at least half of this today,” McIlroy said for the first time after being introduced as a champ. “He’s had an unbelievable season. I feel kinda bad…but he’s a really great competitor. He’s a better guy. It was an honor and a privilege to fight him today.”
Scheffler, a four-time winner of the PGA Tour this season and the highest-rated golfer in the world for nearly all of the year, finished second alongside Sungjae Im. They each received $5.75 million, splitting the second and third place awards.
McIlroy later mentioned the “Battle of Georgia” between the two giants in the game as Scheffler defeated McIlroy at the 2022 Masters at Augusta National in April. While the rebound went the 26-year-old’s way into the first major championship of the year (and for much of the year), on Sunday, the golf gods commanded the Northern Ireland-born man to win, to offset a season that featured four times in the top 10 in the Major tournaments including Heartbreaker (at the Open Championships in St Andrews) and Left Mouth Acid McIlroy.
“It means a lot [to win the Tour Championship]McIlroy said. “I believe in golf. I believe in this tour in particular. I believe in the players on this tour. It is the greatest place in the world to play golf, without exception, and I have played all over the world.
“This is an incredibly proud moment for me, but it should also be an incredibly proud moment for the PGA Tour. They’ve been through some tough times this year, but we’re getting through them. That was a spectacle out there today — two of the best players in the world competing head-to-head. The biggest prize on the PGA Tour — and I hope everyone at home enjoys it.”
Becoming the main character on the PGA Tour, leading the offensive against the LIV Golf Series and still being able to perform at the highest level on the biggest stage, the taste of victory was even sweeter for McIlroy in Atlanta.
In a week that began with McIlroy and Tiger Woods’ efforts off the golf course to secure the game’s future, it was McIlroy’s performance inside the ropes that once again proved that the PGA Tour couldn’t be recreated.
Below is a breakdown of the rest of the leaderboard for the 2022 Tour Championships at East Lake Golf Club.
T2. Scotty Scheffler, Sungjae Im (-20): The stars are aligned for Schaeffler to claim history in East Lake. Starting the week with one stroke, building up to seven and starting the final round with a six-stroke edge, Schaeffler simply let the FedEx Cup slip through his fingers. Having played the last six holes in the 4 down to wrap up his third round on Sunday morning, I felt inevitable this week would continue in the same fashion as his spring when he took his four wins.
With the win, Schaeffler would have secured the richest season in PGA Tour history and only the fifth of five wins in the past decade, joining Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He was also going to put a stamp on what was a sub-campaign. While the $12.25 million difference between the first place prize and Scheffler’s T2 prize may be painful, Scheffler will take solace in an astonishingly great season. He would probably be chosen as the best player on your PGA Tour and still be #1 globally, but unfortunately, sometimes he’s the best when the lights are the brightest.
Adopted son of Atlanta, Em was casually doing his job and trying to recover from a blunder on his back on Sunday. He’s had a one-two punch of the lead on multiple occasions, but it was a double bogey in the fourth division 14 that eventually knocked his name out of the FedEx Cup competition. With just one win to his credit in the season, Im Consistency finally paid dividends in the form of a joint runner-up check. He entered the post-season with back-to-back finishes and runners-up and rode that momentum in three straight finals out of 15. It’s easy to forget that Im is only 24 years old, and who would say a Schaeffler-type season isn’t in sight for him as he’s now hoping for a Leading the international team to a massive upset in the President’s Cup in September.
4 – Xander Shaveli (-18): The East Lake savant was one of three players to touch the lead during the Tour Championships, but Schauffele made a comeback immediately after that. Without delaying Saturday’s rains, we might be discussing a different story, but in the end, the weekend was his ultimate retreat. Shaveli was one of only four players who didn’t break a level in the third round, unable to keep up with his opponent in play, Schaeffler, and ultimately the rest of the field.
T5. Max Homa, Justin Thomas (-17): Homa, the man who won his first championship of the 2021-22 season, booked his season in impressive fashion. Houma played the last 56 holes on 18 under 18, and was able to climb from the depths of the leaderboard to a seven-figure salary. The self-confident King should only continue this path heading into next year as he added two wins, a top-five finish on the Tour Championship and (most likely) a U.S. Presidents Cup appearance at Quail Hollow–the site of his first PGA Tour win– in his autobiography.
T7. Patrick Cantlay, Seb Straca (-16): This week saw all the making of back-to-back FedEx Cup titles for Cantley as this year’s PGA Tour Player of the Year was just a fitting performance away from winning the first prize of the year. Starting the week in second place at 8 under, the Californian was a mainstay on the front page of the leaderboard despite some difficulties on the Greens. Cantlay was among the leaders in both shooting metrics, but was uncharacteristically ranked outside the top 25 in hits earned out of just 29 players. He’s been statistically better than last season, but despite this achievement the 30-year-old’s equipment in the Zurich Classic and BMW’s championship looks very light.
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