Note to those in the field at Pebble Beach this week: perhaps Brooks and Tiger are not the ones who should scare you most.
Former U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy, who won the 2011 event by eight shots, appears back atop his brilliantly-talented game, after he exploded for a 9-under 61 at Hamilton Golf Club to reach 22-under-par for the week, and win the RBC Canadian Open by a staggering seven strokes over Shane Lowry and Webb Simpson.
And it was nearly even better. McIlroy, ingratiating himself well to the raucous Canadian crowd in his event debut by donning Toronto Raptors colors, was in the fairway on 18, needing a birdie, something he had nine of on the day so far plus an eagle, to shoot a 59. He pulled his approach into the sand, which led to a bogey after the moment required a more aggressive bunker shot than he typically would have attempted.
His 61, however, still tied a career-low, and a seven-shot romp is even more impressive when considering that he was just tied for the lead to begin Sunday.
McIlroy’s unconscious 61, combined with the phenomenal 60 posted by Brandt Snedeker on Friday, could lead to a misconception that the course was easy, but those two rounds were rather large outliers for the week. On Sunday, two 6-under 64s were the only other rounds that we even better than 4-under. McIlroy was just really, really good on Sunday.
After his second victory of the PGA Tour season, the 16th of his PGA Tour career, and the SIXTH in a national open, the world No. 4 goes into the U.S. Open next week with an excellent shot at snapping his five-year major-less streak. Rory was the last player on Tour to win the week before winning a major, having won the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone the week before winning the PGA Championship, which was, surprisingly, his last major victory.
Final Leaderboard: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Rory McIlroy -22 (-9)
2. Shane Lowry -15 (-3)
2. Webb Simpson -15 (-2)
4. Brandt Snedeker -13 (-1)
4. Matt Kuchar -13 (E)
6. Adam Hadwin -12 (E)
7. Sungjae Im -11 (-6)
8. Graeme McDowell -10 (-2)
8. Henrik Stenson -10 (E)
8. Danny Willett -10 (-3)
14. Mackenzie Hughes -8
20. Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson -7
27. Jim Furyk, Nick Taylor -6
31. Joaquin Niemann -5
44. Keegan Bradley -3
50. Brooks Koepka -2
63. Bubba Watson +2
How Rory McIlroy Won the RBC Canadian Open
Rory began the final round in a three-way tie for the lead with Simpson and FedEx Standings leader Matt Kuchar, but Sunday was in doubt for just a short period of time. While most of the contenders started poorly, McIlroy exploded out of the gate with four birdies in his first five holes. After adding another birdie on No. 7, Rory was suddenly three strokes up on Kuchar, with nobody else to be seen, and barring an unlikely collapse the event was feeling over.
McIlroy then kept his foot on the accelerator for the back nine, carding birdies on four consecutive holes from Nos. 11-14, a stretch Kuchar had played multiple strokes over par.
With four holes to go, the tournament was not in doubt, and McIlroy was in a position where he could shoot 59 by playing 15-18 in 2-under. He went par-bogey on the next two holes to take some of the wind out of those sails, but then an unbelievable approach shot on the par-5 17th got him within two feet of the hole for eagle, a putt he calmly sank. A poor approach on 18, though, ended his chances, but even with a final-hole bogey, he still put together his best round on Tour in recent memory.
McIlroy’s 26 birdies for the week led the field. He also led the field in driving distance, strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: tee-to-green, strokes gained: total (he was in the top six in all six strokes gained categories), and he was second in greens in regulation.
It was an all-around fantastic week on the statistical front.
What It Means For McIlroy
Fans and media alike will be speculating all week what this dominant effort will mean for McIlroy’s U.S. Open chances next week. The man who turned 30 just last month once looked like he would rack up a total of majors that would rival the best of all time, but after winning his third and fourth over the final two events of the 2014 season, he has found majors to be much more difficult to figure out.
Since that last win, he has nine top-10s in majors without winning, and has not been great while in contention. Surprisingly, he has missed the cut in his last three U.S. Open appearances, so there will be a mental hurdle there for Rory to clear too.
One thing about McIlroy’s season that probably does not even need to be said: this win was hardly an outlier. Rory has been unbelievable on the PGA Tour this season. He now has a Tour-leading TEN top 10s in just 13 season starts, and this is his second victory, having taken down an elite field in March at THE PLAYERS Championship. He leads the Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: tee-to-green, and strokes gained: total. He also leads the money list, has the most eagles, and boasts the Tour’s third best scoring average.
The addition of World No. 1 Brooks Koepka to the RBC Canadian Open field was the big story coming into the week. The extremely-talented 29-year-old was making his first start after winning his second consecutive PGA Championship, his fourth major championship in his last eight major starts, as part of his major prep before next week’s U.S. Open, an event where he is ALSO the two-time defending champion.
This week, however, Brooks was largely a non-story. An opening-round 70 kept him well off the pace, and while a back-nine tear on Friday brought a little excitement to his chances, a 72-70 weekend left him at 2-under for the week, a shocking 20 strokes behind McIlroy, into a share of 50th place.
Not every player, as great as they are, have their A game every week, but this mediocre finish further strengths the Koepka narrative that he does not care about non-majors. In his career, he has just two wins in non-majors, half of his major total. He does have 12 career finishes of second or third in non-majors, but if he was trying to quelch that reputation, he did not pick a good week to post his first finish outside the top 4 in an individual event in more than two months.
As of his Sunday, three birdies were cancelled out by one bogeys and a final-hole double for an even-par 70. For the week, he had just 13 birdies, and finished 37th or worse in five of the six strokes gained categories. His putting as a whole was so poor that he finished 61st for the week in strokes gained: putting despite GAINING nearly four strokes on the field on the greens in his second round.
Make that 65 years since a Canadian last one the Canadian Open.
To be fair, nobody was beating Rory McIlroy on this Sunday, but after a surprising number of native Canadians were near the top of the leaderboard early (four in the top 10 after two rounds), it was disappointing to see so many fade on Sunday.
Just one finished in the top 10 this year: Adam Hadwin. The highest-ranked Canadian in the world at No. 79, the 31-year-old from Saskatchewan was in the midst of yet another streaky year, as he had three top 10s on the season, but none since a runner-up finish at the Desert Classic back in January.
After shooting 65-66-67, in the first three rounds, Hadwin was in great chance to snap the drought, sitting just one back of McIlroy going into the final round. However, he took himself out of the mix early, playing his first eight holes in 2-over while McIlroy exploded. He rebounded some on the back nine, but Hadwin ended up finishing with an even-par 70, good for 12-under for the week and a finish of solo-sixth place.
The other two Canadians with a prayer to begin Sunday did not do any better. Mackenzie Hughes was just four back at 9-under, but shot a 1-over 71 which included 17 pars and a bogey to finish T14. Nick Taylor was five back, but needing a ridiculously good final score, he shot a 2-over 72 to finish T27, fourth among Canadians.
Pat Fletcher in 1954 remains the last Canadian-native to win this event.
While a 2-under 68 is usually not a “Sunday Star,” it was for Graeme McDowell, who drained a long par-putt on the 18th hole to finish T8 and lock up a spot in the Open Championship next month in his home country of Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush.
Joining McDowell at the 148th Open Championship will be Sungjae Im who carded a 6-under 64 to secure his sixth top-10 of the PGA Tour season and a trip to Northern Ireland. The 21-year-old carded five birdies and two eagles in his final round to jump 18 spots up the final leaderboard to T8, snapping a terrible two-month slump after he had gotten his rookie season on Tour off to a tremendous start.
And speaking of slump-breaking top 10s, Danny Willett posted his first on Tour since winning the 2016 Masters. The Englishman saw his career plummet after his breakthrough major, but has shown recent strides, and a Sunday 3-under 67 jumped him into a share for 8th, and also snuck him into the 125th spot on the current FedExCup Standings (the top 125 make the playoffs and also secure their Tour card for next year).
A T27 at last week’s Memorial combined with this week’s T8 in Canada has him trending positively into the U.S. Open, after his previous seven starts worldwide had comprised a T41, a T42, and five missed cuts.
The biggest mover on the Sunday leaderboard was someone who hails from far away Colombia. Sebastian Munoz was bogey-free in round four, tying Im’s 6-under 64 to rocket 32 spots up the final leaderboard, to 9-under and a share of 11th place. Munoz had 12 birdies between the two bookend rounds, combining a Thursday 65 with his tremendous Sunday round.
Brooks Koepka and the Canadians were the most notable players who failed to get anything going on Sunday, but were far from the only ones. Kuchar, was (and still is) No. 1 in the FedExCup standings, and was tied atop the leaderboard through three rounds with McIlroy and Simpson, but he showed little of the form that won him two PGA Tour events earlier this year.
After two birdies in his first five holes, Kuchar looked like the biggest threat to Rory, but his round went south from there. After paring out the front nine, Kuchar carded bogeys on Nos. 10, 12, and 14 to fall over par for the day.
A birdie on 17 meant a disappointing even-par 70, and a share of fourth place. He did putt fantastically for the week, however, ranking second in the field in strokes gained: putting.
Another big name struggling to an even-par 70 was Henrik Stenson, who has not made much noise on the PGA Tour this year, but began Sunday at 10-under par, just three strokes out of the lead.
Unfortunately for the Swede, a double-bogey on the par-5, one where he was just 50 yards from the hole after his second shot, put him behind early, and he had to chase just to get to even-par. Stenson finished T8, his best result on Tour this season.
The disastrous weekend of 36-hole co-leader Scott Brown continued with a 2-over 72 in round four. A 65-63 start had him at 12-under through two rounds, but he shot 5-over on Saturday, and by losing more to the field on Sunday, he finished in a tie for 31st place. Brown ended up carding more birdies in a five-hole stretch from holes 2-7 on Friday than he did the entire weekend.
“It’s been a while since I played like this and sort of put my foot down, but it was so nice to do it today. Obviously a huge confidence builder not just for next week, but for the rest of the season. To be tied for the lead and to play the way I did, play with that freedom and play with no inhibitions, take driver and stay aggressive, I think this will — obviously very proud of what I’ve done today. Hopefully sets up well for the rest of year, too.”
– Rory McIlroy, RBC Canadian Open Champion