Rory McIlroy firmly silenced any doubters about his ability to close out a victory as he claimed The Players Championship by one shot on a sensational Sunday at TPC Sawgrass.
Rory McIlroy recovered from a turbulent start to top an unpredictable leaderboard that saw big names fall away and unlikely challengers rise to the fore during a dramatic final round on St. Patrick’s Day.
McIlroy finished at 16-under-par with a final round two-under 70 to end up one shot clear of Jim Furyk, who fired a five-under 67 to set the early clubhouse target at 15-under.
In the end, McIlroy would set-up back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes to move one shot clear, and after safely navigating the dangerous par-three 17th water hole, piped his driver down the 18th fairway, hit his approach to 26 feet and easily two putted for victory.
“This is probably the deepest field of the year,” McIlroy said. “I’m just thankful it was my week to win. This is one of the tournaments I desperately wanted to win. It has the deepest field, it’s played on an iconic golf course. And these names on the trophy are unbelievable.”
It was a win that would silence any critics about his Sunday-form after last week’s fifth consecutive top-6, which many pointed out was the ninth time in a row he had been in the final group and failed to win.
Yet while he may not have had the last tee-time at TPC Sawgrass, any doubts that McIlroy couldn’t convert top 10s in to wins were erased, and he said he felt that it was all those near-misses which fueled his ability to win.
But McIlroy edging out Furyk is no where close to the full story. It was far from a two horse race, as 11 players had chances to claim the brand new trophy and become crowned the 2019 Players Champion over the closing stretch.
The 29-year-old Northern Irishman began the day one shot behind overnight leader Jon Rahm, but soon found the water on the fourth hole for a double-bogey to drop back to 12-under.
Playing partner Jason Day struggled over the opening holes too, while Rahm dropped three shots over his first four holes and a solitary opening bogey from Tommy Fleetwood put him out in front.
As McIlroy birdied the sixth and bogeyed the seventh, a ground-hog day feeling seemed in store once more and players ahead in the field packed the ever-open leaderboard.
But the turning point came on the par-five ninth, when McIlroy went for the green in two and ended up with just 26 yards to the pin. He’d knock that to five feet and get back to one-over for his round.
He then answered a missed chance from inside 10 feet on the 10th hole with back-to-back birdies from the 11th to get to 15-under-par, before he quickly handed a shot back with a missed par-putt on the 14th.
Around the same time, Eddie Pepperell holed a monster putt on the par-three 17th to get to 14-under par, and a hole later Jhonattan Vegas did the exact same thing. Pepperell would set the clubhouse target, and Vegas would join him after missing from six-feet for birdie on the 18th to move one shot clear.
Elsewhere, Ollie Schniederjans had an eagle chance to join the duo and got to 13-under but drowned his chances after finding the water on 17. Brandt Snedeker also failed to take advantage, missing from 10 feet for birdie on 17 to get to 15-under-par before making a final-hole bogey.
An emotional Jim Furyk rolled back the years on Sunday, posting an early eagle on the 2nd and making back-to-back birdies from the turn before closing out with two birdies over his last three holes to move ahead of Pepperell and Vegas.
With just Rahm, Fleetwood and McIlroy left in contention, somebody had to make a move.
McIlroy joined Furyk at 15-under with a birdie putt from 13-feet on 15, and he went on to tap in for a second gain on 16 to move one clear.
Fleetwood, who was two-over for his round after 15, managed an impressive tap-in eagle on the 16th but ended any challenge he could have mounted by finding the water on 17 with his tee shot.
He was followed in by Rahm, whose double bogey on that hole put him at four-over for his round and well out of contention.
Once McIlroy safely navigated his tee shot on the 18th and found the green with his second, it was all over. A two-putt par gauranteed the spoils, and sets him up perfectly as he attempts to win the Grand Slam at The Masters next month.
Behind McIlroy and Furyk, Pepperell and Vegas finished in a tie for 3rd with Dustin Johnson, Snedeker and Fleetwood a shot further back on 13-under. Hideki Mastuyam, Justin Rose, Brian Harman and Day rounded out the rest of the top 10, while overnight leader Rahm limped to a tie for 12th with Adam Scott, Abraham Ancer and Joel Dahmen.
With this win…
Rory joins the record books: He joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only other player to hold 15 PGA Tour victories (including 4 majors) before the age of 30.
More records: He joins Henrik Stenson and Woods as the only other player to win The Players, The FedEx Cup, a major and a WGC.
Moving up the rankings: McIlroy will move to World No.4