Heading into this week, Rory McIlroy had not enjoyed a banner 2016. He was without a victory on the PGA Tour for the year, had dropped from No. 1 at last year’s U.S. Open to No. 5 in the world and had been blasted for his comments about golf in the Olympics.
Only an emotional victory for the Northern Irishman at the Irish Open proved to be a saving grace. Now, he can look back on the season with more glee.
McIlroy fired a 6-under 65 Monday in windy final-round conditions at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., to storm from six behind to a much-needed victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
He ended it in style, too. After a bogey on 17 dropped his lead to one, McIlroy hit a beautiful greenside bunker blast to 2 feet and tapped in the putt for a closing birdie to sign for 15 under and put himself two up.
Now, he just had to wait and see whether he might be caught.
Paul Casey, the overnight leader by three, struggled all day in breezy conditions spawned by Tropical Storm Hermine. Casey put up four bogeys versus two birdies in his first 17 holes, but he still had a chance to catch McIlroy at the 18th.
The Englishman hit a monster drive on the par 5, leaving himself 223 yards, from where he knocked a 4-iron nearly 60 feet from the hole. He would need to sink that eagle effort to force a playoff. Alas, his eagle putt would scurry past the hole (and he would miss the 11-foot comebacker) and McIlroy was the champion.
The victory was McIlroy’s 12th career PGA Tour title, and his first since the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship. McIlroy, 27, is the third-fastest player to reach 12 Tour titles, with only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus reaching the mark at younger ages.
On top of this being a statement victory in a year of struggles, McIlroy did it in a sublime manner. He made a triple bogey on his third hole (No. 12) of the tournament Friday to fall to 4 over early.
“I’d come off the back of a rough couple of weeks,” McIlroy said. “I was like, Here we go again.”
Somehow, he would fight to even par by the end of the first round, despite that big blow.
And he would only continue to rocket from there, adding rounds of 67, 66 and 65, playing his final 69 holes in 19 under.
Still, even with a near-albatross to end the third round, McIlroy began the final day 9 under and six back.
With tee times moved up due to predicted high winds, McIlroy got things going early in the morning. He birdied Nos. 2 and 4 with short putts, added another short birdie at No. 7 and then rolled in 18- and 10-footers at Nos. 8 and 9, respectively, to go out in 5-under 31.
The birdies would slow on the back nine, but already 14 under, McIlroy would need only a steady hand over the final nine to get the job done. He indeed did that with a birdie at 12 followed by the bogey-birdie finish. The 65 tied for low round of the day and earned McIlroy his largest final-round comeback of his PGA Tour career. (He did overcome a seven-shot deficit to win the 2014 BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.) Actually, McIlroy could have gone even lower than 65 on Monday, as he missed 7-foot birdie putts at Nos. 11 and 14.
Regardless, it was also a monumental week for McIlroy with the putter. That club has given him fits all year as he has switched and then switched back with grips and still ranks only 130th on Tour in strokes gained: putting, giving up .135 shots per round on the greens.
He changed his putter – from a Nike Method Origin blade to a Scotty Cameron for Titleist Newport M1 prototype – last week at The Barclays and recently brought on a new putting coach, Phil Kenyon, Henrik Stenson’s guy. How’d that work out? Well, this week, he gained 1.325 strokes per round with the flatstick, finishing seventh in the field in that statistic. Talk about quick results.
On the flipside of McIlroy’s glee, Casey squandered a chance at his long-awaited second PGA Tour win. The 39-year-old Englishman counts the 2009 Shell Houston Open as his only Tour victory, and was unable to add to his win total thanks to a final-round 73 that left him 13 under and in solo second.
PGA champion Jimmy Walker closed with 70 to finish solo third at 12. Adam Scott jumped from T-23 to solo fourth at 11 under thanks to a closing 65, while last week’s winner of The Barclays, Patrick Reed, tied for fifth at 10 under after a final-round 69.
Reed retains the FedEx Cup lead after this week, but McIlroy jumps from 38th to fourth, ensuring a trip to the Tour Championship in a year that had given him so much trouble.
Could we see another McIlroy run in the near future? At the very least, his spirits are up again.
“It’s pretty cool (to win),” McIlroy said. “Things can turn around really quickly in this game, and they did this week.”