ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy staged an improbable comeback, coming from six turns behind to defeat world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler with a final-round 4-under 66 at East Lake Golf Club to win the Tour Championship.
McIlroy became the first player to win the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour’s season-long competition, a third time. He did so in dramatic fashion, posting the longest final-round comeback in Tour Championship history to finish at 21-under, one stroke better than Scheffler and Sungjae Im, and win the $18 million top prize.
“What a week, what a day. I feel like Scottie deserves at least half of that today,” McIlroy said. “I feel kind of bad that I dropped him in the post. He’s one hell of a competitor and an even better guy. It was an honor and a privilege to fight with him today. I’m sure there will be many more. I told him we are all in Georgia. He got the Masters and I got this.”
The Northern Irishman trailed Scheffler by six strokes in the staggered start scoring system implemented at the Tour Championship. McIlroy gave him an even bigger lead by hitting his first tee of the tournament Thursday out of bounds and triple-bogeyed the first and bogeyed the second to fall 10 shots behind.
“I got off to the worst possible start,” said McIlroy, who said he thought about South Korea’s Tom Kim, who opened the Wyndham Championship with a four-bogey and went on to win.
“It’s possible,” McIlroy said after rallying to shoot a 67 on Thursday. “Everything is possible.”
He chipped away at Scheffler’s lead with another 67 on Friday and then made his move on Saturday. After the third round was interrupted for the day by lightning, McIlroy returned Sunday morning and birdied his final two holes to close with a 7-under 63.
“It’s a perfect way to end the round,” McIlroy said.
Still Scheffler, who birdied four of the final six holes of the third round, entered the final round with a six-year cushion. It disappeared quickly.
“Everyone talks about how much fun it is to win. It’s not,” NBC’s Paul Azinger said. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. It’s only after the fact that it’s fun.”
On a bright, steamy day, McIlroy stumbled again on the first hole but bounced back with four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at the third. Trying for his fifth win of the season, Scheffler struggled with three bogeys in his first six holes.
“That’s a disaster,” Azinger said after Scheffler flopped a shot into a greenside bunker on No. 6. “It’s hard to see that happen to a guy of that caliber, that caliber. This was always going to be a tough day for him, a tough weekend and he’s really feeling the heat now.”
McIlroy birdied one hole later to tie for the lead. But Scheffler wouldn’t go down without a fight. He stuck his approach to 5 feet on No. 8 to regain the lead. McIlroy again closed out the tournament with a short birdie on No. 12, but gave up a stroke when he failed to get up and down on 14. He took the stroke in dramatic fashion, sinking a 32-foot birdie a hole later and sending the gallery in favor of McIlroy in a frenzy. For the day, McIlroy was the leading player, winning by more than four strokes on the greens.
The lead belonged to McIlroy one hole later when he made a 7-foot par putt to be 21 under and Scheffler, who closed at 3-over 73, missed from 9 feet and failed to sell the last. Scheffler tied for the worst round of the day in the 29-player field.
Despite a double bogey at 14, 24-year-old South Korean Im birdied two of his last four holes to shoot a 66 and complete his most successful season to date with a pretty good payday. He took home $5.75 million for finishing in a tie for second place.
“My goal this week was to finish in the top 5 and to finish this high is very unexpected,” said Im. “I’m glad it all worked out.”
The story originally appeared on GolfWeek