Halloween was just three days ago, but nothing anyone saw was scarier than the phenomenal recent form of golf superstar Rory McIlroy.
Having won the Tour Championship in August to clinch his second career FedExCup Championship, McIlroy was named the 2019 PGA Tour Player of the Year, a fantastic campaign that saw him win three times, including THE PLAYERS Championship in March. Ranked No. 2 world, McIlroy had won three of his previous 14 PGA Tour starts.
Make that four of his last 15.
The rejuvenated 30-year-old held off defending champion Xander Schauffele in a playoff at China’s Sheshan Golf Club, the host site of the WGC-HSBC Champions. McIlroy played the weekend bogey-free, and shot a Sunday 4-under 68 to finish 19-under for the week.
It was the 18th career PGA Tour victory for McIlroy, and his first WGC title since his WGC-Match Play victory in 2015. He now has three World Golf Championship wins, alongside four career major championships.
As easy as McIlroy has made golf look as of late, his final round in Shanghai was hardly a cakewalk. Despite opening the week with three consecutive rounds of 5-under 67, McIlroy held just a one-stroke 54-hole lead over regular major championship leaderboard presence Louis Oosthuizen. The 37-year-old South African started his fourth round with consecutive birdies, to jump one ahead of McIlroy after just two holes. Rory and Oosthuizen were tied for the lead after eight holes, before a difficult stretch (he played his next five holes in 2-over) knocked Oosthuizen off the pace.
Down the back-nine stretch, McIlroy’s primary challenger ended up being Schauffele, the man he played all 73 holes with in this event.
Despite battling the flu, Schauffele had played well over the first three rounds, and was just two off of McIlroy’s 54-hole pace. After a bogey on the par-3 sixth hole, Schauffele exploded with three birdies in a row to reassert himself as a championship threat. At 5-under for the day through 17 holes, Schauffele found himself one stroke back of McIlroy with one hole to play, and got the 72nd hole result he needed, sinking a birdie putt while McIlroy missed his and settled for par.
Schauffele’s 6-under 66, his best round of the week, was good enough to force a playoff.
However, the playoff lasted only a single hole, which was played again on the par-5 18th. Drawing first blood, McIlroy striped his drive down the center of the fairway, while Schauffele found the rough and was forced to lay up. McIlroy calmly birdied the hole, while Schauffele missed a 12-footer that would have extended the playoff.
McIlroy will only play one more event on his current heater, as he is set to take two months off of competitive golf after playing a European Tour event in Dubai in two weeks. Regardless, he has clearly established himself as one of the primary threats in every event he tees off in for the foreseeable future.
Final Scores: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Rory McIlroy -19 (-4)
2. Xander Schauffele -19 (-6)
3. Louis Oosthuizen -17 (-3)
4. Victor Perez -15 (-6)
4. Mathias Schwab -15 (-6)
4. Abraham Ancer -15 (-5)
6. Matthew Fitzpatrick -14 (-1)
8. Patrick Reed -12 (-6)
8. Jason Kokrak -12 (-1)
8. Paul Waring -12 (E)
11. Adam Scott -11
11. Hideki Matsuyama -11
11. Sungjae Im -11
14. Tyrrell Hatton -10
20. Henrik Stenson -8
22. Francesco Molinari -7
24. Keegan Bradley -6
24. Billy Horschel -6
24. Haotong Li -6
28. Phil Mickelson -5
28. Bubba Watson -5
28. Justin Rose -5
38. Paul Casey -2
43. Jordan Spieth -1
43. Shane Lowry -1
53. Sergio Garcia +2
53. Tony Finau +2
53. Tommy Fleetwood +2
73. Danny Willett +11
How Rory McIlroy Won The WGC-HSBC Champions
Playing the weekend bogey-free made McIlroy very difficult for the field to ultimately pass. He had just five bogeys for the week, which co-led the field, and his 22 birdies was tied for third. His driving accuracy improved tremendously as the week progressed, and over the weekend, he missed just seven of 36 greens in regulation.
Every part of his game has been clicking during his recent hot streak, and really during the entirety of the 2018-19 season, as his final strokes gained tally on the season was the best of anyone not named Tiger Woods since that stat started being recorded.
McIlroy’s Winning Numbers
Fairways: 24/56, 42.9% (74th)
Greens: 38/72, 52.8% (70th)
Putts/GIR: 70/1.605 (8th)
Par-3: -5 (5 Birdies, 11 Pars, 0 Bogeys)
Par-4: -6 (10 Birdies, 26 Pars, 4 Bogeys)
Par-5: -8 (1 Eagle, 7 Birdies, 7 Pars, 1 Bogey)
Total: -19 (1 Eagle, 22 Birdies, 44 Pars, 5 Bogeys)
What It Means For McIlroy
Rory has made it clear that he would very much like to reclaim the World No. 1 ranking, a position he has not held since midway through the 2015 season. Coming into the week ranked second, his victory in China was not quite enough to usurp Brooks Koepka for the top spot, but he is creeping very closely. It will definitely be a race to watch early in the next calendar year.
A position McIlroy did reclaim was the top of the FedExCup standings. However, that time in the first position may be short-lived as previous No. 1 Lanto Griffin may be back there at the conclusion of Sunday, given he finishes at least moderately well at the PGA Tour’s inaugural Bermuda Championship, an event going on opposite the WGC-HSBC Champions.
Griffin started Sunday in a share of 20th place, which, if it stands, would put him back atop the early FedExCup standings, albeit in four more events (6) than McIlroy has played this season (2).
McIlroy’s 2019-20 PGA Tour Season
Cuts Made: 2
Wins: 1 (WGC-HSBC Champions)
Addtl Top 10s: 1 (Zozo Championship)
Money: $2,310,500 (1st)
FedExCup: 713 (2nd)
World Rank Before/After: 2/2
The reputation of Patrick Reed as a team-play wizard took an enormous hit during a disastrous performance at last year’s Ryder Cup, but many would still be surprised to hear that Reed was not a qualifier for next month’s Presidents Cup.
However, his performance in China this week had to have made a positive impression on captain Tiger Woods, who will be making his Captain’s picks this upcoming Thursday. Reed used a bogey-free final-round 6-under 66, the second-lowest round in the Sunday field, to vault into the top 10, sharing eighth place for the week.
After stalling for a large portion of the 2019 season, Reed now has ten consecutive results of T23 or better, with half (5) of those top-10 finishes. His recent form, combined with his team-play resume – last year’s Ryder Cup notwithstanding, could give him a good shot at playing meaningful December golf.
Two players on Sunday shot a field-low 7-under 65, with the more notable being England’s Tyrrell Hatton. After sitting at a mediocre 1-over par through two rounds, Hatton chased a Saturday 68 with Sunday’s co-low round to reach 10-under for the week, and finish in a share of 14th place.
The man he shared that low score with was little-known Japanese native Yosuke Asaji, who propelled himself from 5-over to 2-under on the final leaderboard, a field-high jump of 25 spots, into a share of 38th place.
It was a bittersweet Sunday for popular 49-year-old Phil Mickelson, who shot his lowest round of the week, a 4-under 68, to finish 5-under for the week, good for a T28. It was, shockingly, his best result in seven months, but despite that improved performance, Mickelson’s world ranking is projected to drop outside the top 50 for the first time since 1993.
Kevin Kisner fell well outside the top 8 who automatically qualify for this year’s U.S. Presidents Cup team, finishing the qualifying period in the 15th position, but due to his recent extreme proficiency in match-play events, combined with an undefeated performance as a Presidents Cup rookie in 2017, he still had a strong resume to be a Captain’s pick.
However, a disastrous Sunday in Shanghai did not help his cause. Starting the final day in 8th place at 10-under-par, just five strokes behind McIlroy, Kisner birdied his first two holes, but then came completely unraveled. Five bogeys and a double later, Kisner shot a 5-over 77, to drop 20 spots, into a share of 28th place.
Kisner played exceptionally in the FedExCup playoffs, but has finished poorly in his two starts of the new season, having placed T66 at last week’s Zozo Championship in Japan.
Also shooting a 5-over 77 and falling even further down the Sunday leaderboard than Kisner was Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello. The 35-year-old, who – surprisingly has not notched a top-10 on the PGA Tour since last March, carded three double-bogeys in his final round, causing him to plummet 27 spots, from T30 to T57.
Among those who still placed well on the final leaderboard, it was a disappointing Sunday for little known Paul Waring, an Englishman who just made his OWGR top 100 debut in late September after a T3 at the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Currently ranked 95th, Waring was in tie for fifth coming into the final day, just three strokes behind McIlroy, but an underwhelming even-par 72, despite being 2-under on his round through 5 holes, dropped him into a share of 8th place.
“The last 18 months, I’ve been very settled. I’ve been comfortable with everything, my game, my equipment, my body’s been healthy, or healthier. I struggled with some back problems in my early 20s, and knock on wood, my body feels as good as it ever has at 30. I’m excited for the future.”
– Rory McIlroy