Associated Press on PGA TOUR, 18 March 2019: Rory McIlroy made two late birdies amid the wild theatrics of Sunday at THE PLAYERS Championship and closed with a 2-under 70.
McIlroy, a former FedExCup champion, earned 600 FedExCup points, a $2.25 million check and is the proud owner of the redesigned PLAYERS trophy.
McIlroy could not afford to make a mistake over the final hour because of Jim Furyk, 48, nearly pulled off a stunner. Furyk, one of the last players to get in the strongest field in golf, capped off a 67 with a shot so good into the 18th that he started walking when he hit it. It plopped down 3 feet from the hole for a birdie to take the lead.
But not for long.
McIlroy, one of eight players to have at least a share of the lead in the final round, was coming off a bogey on the 14th to fall behind and was in trouble with a tee shot that found a bunker right of the fairway. He responded with his best shot of the day to 15 feet for birdie.
Then, McIlroy hit the longest drive of the round on the par-5 16th, leaving him a 9-iron from a good lie in the rough to set up a two-shot birdie and the lead.
Most important, he found dry land on the par-3 17th, the Island Green that never looks smaller than on Sunday at THE PLAYERS.
He was solid to the end on a chilly, cloudy day and finished at 16-under 272 to win THE PLAYERS on his 10th try.
“This is probably the deepest field of the year, with so much on the line,” McIlroy, 29, said. “I’m thankful it was my turn this week.”
Furyk didn’t know he was in THE PLAYERS until one week ago, and he was on the verge of winning until McIlroy came through in the end. Furyk started the back nine with two birdies to get in the mix and finished strong. His only regret was a 3-foot par putt on the 15th.
Even so, it showed he has plenty of game left. The runner-up finish moves him high enough in the rankings to qualifying for the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in two weeks.
“A shot here, a shot there, maybe could have been a little different,” Furyk said. “But ultimately, left it all out there. It was also nice to get in contention, to get under the heat, to have to hit shots under a lot of pressure, and then to respond well to that and hit some good golf shots. It’ll be a confidence boost going forward.
Some of the most entertaining moments came from everyone else.
Eddie Pepperell of England, in his debut on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch to briefly share the lead, none bigger than a putt from just inside 50 feet on the 17th.
But it wasn’t the best. One group later, Jhonattan Vegas holed a putt from the bottom left to the top right pin position, just under 70 feet, the longest putt made on the Island Green since the PGA TOUR had lasers to measure them. That gave him a share of the lead, too.
“Magic,” Vegas said. “If I tried it a thousand times I wouldn’t even come close to making it, but I’m pretty happy that it happened today.”
Both shot 66 and tied for third.
Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood lost their way early, and then late.
Rahm, who had a one-shot lead, started with three bogeys in four holes and kept his cool until one curious decision. Tied for the lead, he was in a bunker, 220 yards away, partially blocked by trees on the par-5 11th when he decided to go for the green. It never had a chance, finding the water and leading to a bogey.
Rahm was still in the game until he failed to birdie the 16th, and then put his tee shot in the water on the 17th. He closed with a 76 and tied for 12th.
Fleetwood opened with a three-putt bogey and made all pars until hitting into the water on the 11th for bogey. He made eagle on the 16th to have a fleeting chance until coming up short of the island. He shot 73 and tied for fifth with Brandt Snedeker (69) and Dustin Johnson (69).
McIlroy emerged as the winner, his 15th on the PGA TOUR and 23rd in his career worldwide. In six tournaments this year, McIlroy has not finished worse than sixth.
He has practised patience in the last three months, and he needed it after hitting into the water at No. 4 and making double bogey.
“I almost liked today because it was tough,” McIlroy said. “I knew guys weren’t going to get away from us. I knew there was some chances coming up. I stayed patient. Anytime I looked at a leaderboard, I was pleasantly surprised because I hadn’t fallen two, three, four shots behind.”
Nothing was sweeter than the sight of the leaderboard when he finished.
PGA TOUR Release
Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama enjoyed his second top-10 finish at THE PLAYERS Championship on Sunday to prove he was back to his best form.
Matsuyama signed off at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass with a 5-under 67 to finish T8 on 12-under 276, four shots behind winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland who lifted his first PLAYERS title and 15th PGA TOUR victory.
With an 11-under weekend charge, Matsuyama, a five-time PGA TOUR winner but not since 2017, was delighted to maintain his good form with a third top-10 on the PGA TOUR this season. The 27-year-old also moved up to 31st position on the latest FedExCup points list.
The highlight of his day was an eagle at the par-5 16th hole when he rifled a five-iron approach to six feet. Matsuyama also made four birdies against a lone bogey in the PGA TOUR’s flagship US$12.5 million tournament.
“I hit some good quality shots, especially with the irons and made some putts. It was a good weekend. Hit a five iron (on 16) and hit it exactly where I wanted it to go,” he said.
Two years ago, Matsuyama finished a career-high fourth on the FedExCup points list and was also ranked second on the Official World Golf Ranking. A wrist injury put a speed bump to his rise but he was pleased with his season thus far where he has not missed a single cut.
“Compared to last year, it’s much better this year. It’s been satisfying. Without results, it would be a struggle. So far so good … I feel confident with my game,” said Matsuyama, whose next assignment is the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas in two weeks’ time.
“I don’t really compare to 2017 … all I can control is how I’m playing now and I’m playing good. I’ve had the results. Hopefully I’ll get there (winning again).”
Korea’s Byeong Hun An was Asia’s next highest finisher at T26 following a final round 71 which included a disappointing double-bogey six on his last hole when his third shot found the water hazard. He carded five birdies and two other bogeys during his round.
“I was playing quite well until that point. I should have played better. I started the week nicely (he shot 66 in the first round) and didn’t continue the momentum. Hopefully the next time I will continue to play well,” said An.
Countryman Sung Kang, who finished T10 last week, closed with a 72 for T47 while 2017 PLAYERS champion Si Woo Kim carded a 73 to finish T56. Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan settled for T72 after a 76.
McIlroy joined Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson as the only players to win at least one FedExCup, THE PLAYERS, a major and a World Golf Championships event with his one-shot triumph over Jim Furyk after a thrilling final round shootout where he closed with a final round 70.
Wins 15th PGA TOUR title in 156th start at age 29 years, 10 months, 14 days. Most recent title came at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, nearly one year ago on March 18, 2018
Began the week at No. 11 in the FedExCup standings and moved to No. 1 for the first time since winning the 2016 FedExCup.
Moves to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, his best position since August 27, 2017
Began the final round one stroke back of 54-hole leader Jon Rahm; marks eighth come-from-behind victory in a PGA TOUR stroke-play event, including the fourth consecutive
First player from Northern Ireland to win THE PLAYERS and 15th international champion
Becomes the third player to win at least one FedExCup, THE PLAYERS, a major and a World Golf Championships event joining Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson
McIlroy has won PGA TOUR events at three Pete Dye courses:
2012 PGA Championship – The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
2012 BMW Championship – Crooked Stick Golf Club
2019 PLAYERS Championship – THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass
Marks his sixth consecutive top-10 on the PGA TOUR, which bests his previous streak of five in 2015: THE PLAYERS Championship (win), Arnold Palmer Invitational (T6), WGC-Mexico Championship (2), Genesis Open (T4), Farmers Insurance Open (T5), Sentry Tournament of Championship (T4)
Led the field in par-3 scoring average (2.69); finished at 5-under for the week
Led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (13.262); finished second in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (5.309) behind Tommy Fleetwood