It may not be in the PGA Tour’s knack to predict the winners of the event, but it’s safe to assume that Rory McIlroy’s latest FedEx Cup win received approval in the halls of power.
McIlroy left East Lake $18 million richer after overcoming Scottie Scheffler’s half-dozen shot lead over 54 holes. For the Northern Irishman, there is further validation of a year in which he has played some of his best golf. When it comes to the PGA Tour, McIlroy is the perfect ambassador.
That environment’s staunch defenses against the continuing threat from Saudi-backed LIV Golf have seen the 33-year-old go from superstar to statesman. He delivers the odd reminder that he can still play around a bit too. As LIV prepared to announce its latest batch of recruits, including Open champion Cameron Smith, McIlroy became the first golfer to win a trio of FedEx Cups.
“This is the best place in the world to play golf,” McIlroy said. “It is the most competitive. It has the best players. It has the deepest fields. I don’t know why you would want to play anywhere else.”
McIlroy’s next stop will be the DP World Tour PGA Championship, which kicks off at Wentworth’s West Course on Thursday of the week. There, he will come face to face with the LIV rebels who, at least for the time being, get to play on what used to be the European Tour.
“If you believe in something, I think you have to speak up, and I strongly believe in this,” McIlroy said. “I really do. I hate what it’s doing to the game of golf. I hate it. I really do. It’s going to be tough for me to go to Wentworth and see 18 of them there. That just doesn’t sit well with me.
“So yeah, I feel strong. I think what I’m saying are the right things, and I think when you think what you’re saying are the right things, you’re happy to take a chance.”
As of now, Wentworth’s entry list includes high-profile LIV converts Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Martin Kaymer, Richard Bland, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. Wardrobe swaps can be interesting. McIlroy and Garcia were once particularly close.
One fascinating aspect of McIlroy’s career is that the tumult seems to routinely inspire him. “In a way, it’s my life,” he said. “I really don’t know anything different. In all honesty, golf has been the outlet for me for the past few weeks. It has been, I get inside the ropes, no one can get to me. It’s my escape from these other things that are going on. I guess I’m able to turn it on and off pretty well. I can compartmentalize things.
“I also had to learn that the hard way over the years, but I’ve had a lot of experience, and this is my 15th year on tour. I have a lot of good experiences, bad experiences, things to learn from, and I think all of that combined helps me navigate where we are now.”
It seems a shame that this volatile scene overshadows McIlroy’s exploits in Georgia. Scheffler, the world No. 1, collapsed to a closing 73 in McIlroy’s company. The champion’s 66 was not without drama, even on the final hole where his approach shot crashed into a stand. McIlroy held his nerve to eliminate Scheffler and Im Sung-jae with one shot. Incredibly, he opened the FedEx final with a triple bogey seven. “I know my best stuff is good enough to win any tournament against anybody on any golf course,” McIlroy added. “When you win and when you do things, it energizes you more than anything else. It makes you want to do it more.”
This year’s sore spot came on the east coast of Scotland, where McIlroy was tied for the Open Championship lead after three rounds but closed out two from Smith. Coming up short hurt McIlroy, whose wait for a fifth major title dates back to 2014.
“I’ve been knocking on the door a lot this year,” McIlroy said. “St Andrews was very difficult for me. It was hard to beat. This softens the blow a bit. It doesn’t make it much easier to beat, but it’s great to end the season on a high note like this.
“The big championships are the pinnacle of our sport. This is very close. I felt so close all year. I had a couple of wins, but I was just hoping for something. Maybe this was it.” Onward to Wentworth, where off-course theater could be as dramatic as anything in it.