Rory McIlroy is widely considered to be the world’s most talented golfer. A few others among the PGA Tour elites would challenge that assertion, but on Sunday, McIlroy got season and career validation in the form of a payday only others could dream of: a $15 million check for winning the season-ending Tour Championship, and the season-long FedExCup.
With a final-round 4-under 66 – a round that could be accurately described as an absolute clinic on driving, McIlroy finished net 18-under for the week, winning the newly revamped, ultra-lucrative FedExCup by four strokes over Xander Schauffele (67) at famed East Lake Golf Club.
Also the winner of both the 2016 Tour Championship and FedExCup Championship under a different system, McIlroy, currently No. 3 in the world rankings, joined 2007 and 2009 FedExCup Champion Tiger Woods as the only players with two FedExCups to their name.
Under the new format of the FedExCup, McIlroy started the Tour Championship in fifth-place at 5-under par, and needing to make up five strokes on leader Justin Thomas, who propelled to the top position after winning last week’s second playoff event, the BMW Championship.
The system was altered largely to prevent a situation where the Tour Championship winner and FedExCup Champion end up being two different players, which happened in both 2017 and 2018.
It was a marathon day for the 30-year-old McIlroy, who had to play most of his third round on Sunday morning as well. A weather delay, and more specifically, a lightning strike which injured six spectators and sent five to the hospital (fortunately, none of the injuries were life-threatening and all have been released) halted Saturday’s third-round early. When the third set was finally completed, McIlroy found himself tied with Schauffele at 14-under, just one stroke behind leader Brooks Koepka.
The final round was one of the finest of McIlroy’s illustrious career. He played his front-nine to a bogey-free 2-under 33, although he was the beneficiary of an unbelievably lucky break on the 8th hole, when a poor approach shot was kept out of the water by a greenside drain.
Early in the back-nine, it became a three-man race between McIlroy, Koepka, and Schauffele, but Koepka self-destructed and Schauffele could not make the shots he needed to, while McIlroy carded four more back-nine birdies and sunk several clutch putts. Bogeys by McIlroy on Nos. 14 and 15 made it interesting late, but the tournament was basically over.
Considerable debate was generated over the PGA Tour’s decision to implement handicaps or Starting Strokes, however, the outrage should subside some due to the fact that McIlroy’s 13-under gross score was the lowest in the field for the week. Overall, it was nothing short of a rousing success for the PGA Tour and the FedExCup.
A season that began with the Safeway Open last October has finally come to a close, and it was undeniably one that will be difficult for future seasons to beat. It was the Rory McIlroy of Tour seasons.
Final Leaderboard: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Rory McIlroy -18 (-4)
2. Xander Schauffele -14 (E)
3. Justin Thomas -13 (-2)
3. Brooks Koepka -13 (+2)
5. Paul Casey -9 (+2)
6. Adam Scott -8 (-4)
7. Tony Finau -7 (-3)
8. Chez Reavie -6 (E)
9. Patrick Reed -5 (-2)
9. Kevin Kisner -5 (-2)
9. Hideki Matsuyama -5 (+1)
Final Stat Leaders
Distance: Brooks Kopeka (321.2)
Fairways: Chez Reavie (43/56, 76.8%)
Greens: Adam Scott (55/72, 76.4%)
Putts/GIR: Louis Oosthuizen (67/1.595)
How Rory McIlroy Won The Tour Championship
As it often seems to be when he is “on,” Rory’s game was near-immaculate at East Lake. The Tour leader for the season in strokes gained: off-the-tee, McIlroy did his best work with his driver, averaging well over 300 yards and finishing third in the field in driving accuracy.
It was the biggest difference on the back nine, as both Koepka and Schauffele were shaky off the tees, while McIlroy constantly put himself in prime position.
In addition, McIlroy’s 20 birdies for the week led the 30-man field, he finished second in strokes gained: around-the-green, and on Sunday afternoon, his putter was hot as well. In particular, he sunk a difficult 8-foot putt to save par on the 16th hole, which steadied the ship after he had bogeyed the previous two holes.
McIlroy also made his final birdie putt on 18, a putt he said afterwards he was concentrating hard on, even though the tournament had already been decided, because he wanted to make sure he also had the fewest overall strokes to par of anyone at East Lake. He was wrong in that he did not need that birdie though: he was three strokes better than Schauffele for the week.
Rory McIlroy’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 305.0 yards (8th)
Fairways: 36/56, 64.29% (3rd)
Greens: 50/72, 69.4% (7th)
Putts/GIR: 82/1.633 (3rd)
Off the Tee: 5.314 (1st)
Approach to Green: 3.187 (9th)
Around the Green: 2.467 (2nd)
Putting: 2.165 (11th)
Tee to Green: 10.968 (1st)
Total: 13.133 (1st)
Par-3: -1 (2 Birdies, 10 Pars, 1 Bogeys)
Par-4: -6 (11 Birdies, 30 Pars, 5 Bogeys)
Par-5: -6 (7 Birdies, 1 Par)
Total: -13 (20 Birdies, 41 Pars, 6 Bogeys)
What It Means For McIlroy
It is difficult to tell exactly what this will mean for McIlroy’s career, as it remains to be seen how much FedExCup championships will be valued over the long haul relative to one’s legacy (versus major championships), but what cannot be debated: McIlroy had one heck of a PGA Tour season.
One of the best among his 11-year career, McIlroy, a four-time major champion, finished the season with three victories. In addition to the Tour Championship, he was also the winner of the prestigious PLAYERS Championship in March, and the RBC Canadian Open in June.
In 19 starts on the season, he had an incredible 14 top-10s, and only finished outside the top 25 three times. For the season, he finished second on the money list with $7.8 million in earnings, then captured the FedExCup and its $15 million first-place prize (which does not count towards official money).
Rory was also tremendous statistically on the season. Most impressively, he had the best strokes gained: total of the past decade.
As amazing as his season was, however, he probably will not win the PGA Tour Player of the Year award, which he won in both 2012 and 2014. That honor is likely to go to Koepka, who also had three victories, but while he had fewer high finishes (eight top 10s), he won the PGA Championship while also finishing inside the top-4 in the other three majors. McIlroy’s major season, on the other hand, was nowhere near as stellar, which is a big hit against his Player of the Year candidacy, although he at least put himself in the debate.
The win was McIlroy’s 17th of his PGA Tour career, which moved him into the top 50 all-time. This is especially impressive when factoring in how much time he’d spent on the European Tour earlier in his career. He has 24 career victories between the two Tours.
McIlroy’s 2019 PGA Tour Season:
Cuts Made: 16
Wins: 3 (PLAYERS, Canadian, TOUR) (1st)
Top 10s: 14 (1st)
Official Money: $7,785,286 (2nd)
FedExCup Finish: 1st
FedExCup Money: $15,000,000 (1st)
Strokes Gained: Total: 2.551 (1st)
Scoring Avg: 69.057 (1st)
2019 OWGR Start/Finish: 5/2
Nobody in the abbreviated field bettered McIlroy’s final-round 66, but one man did match it: Adam Scott, who carded six birdies of his own to jump from 10th place to 6th.
Many weeks, that would not seem like an enormous difference, but in this lucrative tournament, the difference between 6th and 10th was over $1 million. Scott left East Lake with a check for $1.9 million.
Tony Finau shot a 3-under 67 on Sunday, which gave him a top-10 finish in a playoff event for the second consecutive week, a solo-7th.
Finau’s 2019 was somewhat disappointing after a very strong 2018, but he did finish strong, chasing a solo-third at the Open Championship with a 4th place finish at last week’s BMW Championship and a 7th this week.
After a 3-under 67 in round 4, Jason Kokrak ended up as the biggest mover from the beginning of the tournament. The largely-anonymous Kokrak, who is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, was the last man in the field, making him one of the few to actually start the tournament at even-par, but in his first Tour Championship, he looked like a natural, finishing 3-under for the week, which was , good for 14th place, a 16-spot jump.
Brooks Koepka might be the presumptive PGA Tour Player of the Year, and he is unquestionably the current King of the Majors, but he was awful down the stretch on Sunday. He entered the tournament at No. 3 in the FedExCup standings, which gave him a starting score of 7-under par, three strokes behind Thomas.
Koepka He was the leader (or co-leader) after each of the three opening rounds, and began the final set with a one-shot edge. He was derailed, though, by a double-bogey on No. 7, yet bounced back immediately with a terrific birdie on No. 8. But he absolutely self-destructed with three consecutive bogeys on the back nine, which turned a three-man race into two-man duel with four holes to go.
To pour salt in the wound, Koepka missed a 17-foot birdie putt on the final hole to tie Schauffele for second-place – a missed-putt which cost him a cool million bucks. He eventually signed for a final-round 73 to tie Thomas for the third spot at net 13-under par, good for a check worth $3.5 million.
Paul Casey, who at 42 was the oldest man in the field, started the final round in contention at 11-under, but four front-nine bogeys knocked him out of the mix early. A bogey-free back-nine only got him to 2-over for the round. Even at solo-fifth, however, Casey earned a whopping $2.5 million, more than major winners gets.
The biggest dropper for the week was a surprise in Patrick Cantlay. The 27-year-old had a remarkable season, winning The Memorial, contending at The Masters, and finishing third at the PGA Championship, but he just could not figure out East Lake (As an aside, our pre-game analysis was wrong on Thomas but correct regarding both Rory and Cantlay.)
Cantlay entered East Lake sitting at No. 2 in the standings, aided greatly by a second-place finish at the BMW Championship, which meant he teed off on Thursday with a starting score of 8-under-par. After a final-round 3-over 73, however, that 8-under number dropped to 1-over, as Cantlay finished T21, shooting a 9-over par 289.
Second place was worth $5 million, while his T21 netted him $478,000.
“Going up against the No. 1 player in the world today, he got one over on me in Memphis, and I sort of wanted to try to get some revenge, so to play like that alongside Brooks, get the win, get the FedExCup. Yeah… it’s awesome!”
– Rory McIlroy, 2019 FedExCup Champion