Planet Golf — 26 August 2022 by GW staff and news services
McIlroy roars back to win Tour title

ATLANTA  — Rory McIlroy rallied from six shots behind world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler to win the TOUR Championship and capture the FedExCup for the third time.

McIlroy won $18 million prize to go along with the trophy. He closed with a 4-under 66 to overtake four-time winner this season Scottie Scheffler, who made only one birdie in a 73.

Sungjae Im fell back with a double bogey on the 14th hole and still managed a 66 to tie for second with Scheffler.

McIlroy referred to the final round of a “spectacle,” and not just because of the pro-McIlroy crowd that chanted his name along the closing holes.

“Two of the best players in the world going head on the best tour,” he said.

McIlroy needed plenty of help from Scheffler, the top player in the FedExCup earning a two-shot lead with “Starting Strokes” and never trailed until the 70th hole. Scheffler, who birdied four of six holes Sunday morning to finish the third round and build a six-shot lead, lost it in the first seven holes.

And then it was a nail-biter to the very end, a stunning afternoon at East Lake that turned on two shots.

McIlroy holed a 31-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th hole to tie for the lead. After he flew the green by some 20 yards, his pitch was running fast and headed off the front of the green when it hit the pin and settled 7 feet away.

He saved par. Scheffler missed his 10-footer and took bogey, and they matched pars the rest of the way.

Scheffler’s 4-iron on the par-5 18th sailed short and right and into a bunker, and he blasted out over the green. McIlroy went left against the grandstand, took relief and got onto the green for an easy par.

McIlroy won in 2016 in a playoff. He won the FedExCup again in 2019, the first year using the “Starting Strokes” format. 

Rory McIlroy passed Tiger Woods for most FedExCup titles to cap a week when the pair announced formation of TWRW Sports and TGL in partnership with the PGA Tour.

“I believe in the game of golf. I believe in this tour, in particular. I believe in the players on this tour,” McIlroy said in the trophy presentation. “It’s the greatest place in the world to play golf, bar none, and I’ve played all over.”

THIRD ROUND

ATLANTA — Justin Thomas was a tap-in away from polishing off a 7-under 63. And then the horn sounded Saturday signaling a stop in play because of storms near the TOUR Championship.

He had to wait until Sunday to not only finish, but to figure out where it left him in pursuit of the FedExCup and its $18 million prize.

Scottie Scheffler was still in the lead, barely. Xander Schauffele was still on his heels, even tying him ever so briefly. They were on the 13th hole and among 10 players who have to return Sunday morning for what could be a sprint toward the PGA TOUR’s top prize. 

Scheffler was at 19-under par, even par for the round on a hot, steamy day at East Lake with soft greens and very little wind … always the recipe for low scoring.

Schauffele was 1 under for a wild round of back-to-back birdies, back-to-back bogeys and back-to-back birdies during a six-hole stretch on the front nine.

The average score for the incomplete round was 67.

That’s what Jon Rahm said he needed — another low round, and Scheffler to not have his best stuff. He got only the second part right. Rahm, coming off a 63, had four bogeys to go along with five birdies and wasn’t making up much ground.

Those who didn’t finish had to return at 9:45 a.m., and only then would the FedExCup finale have any clarity.

Sungjae Im was three shots behind at 16 under. Assuming Thomas makes his putt, he would be at 15 under. Rory McIlroy also was at 15 under with two holes to play, including the par-5 closing hole.

Rahm, Patrick Cantlay and Sepp Straka were at 14 under and still had to finish.

The third round was scheduled to finish an hour later, and then lightning in the area stopped play for an hour. And when the second batch of lightning arrived in the area, there was no chance to finish.

Hideki Matsuyama posted the low round of the day at 63, and he was still six shots behind.

Scheffler started Thursday at 10-under par and with a two-shot lead as the No. 1 seed in the FedExCup, with Cantlay two shots behind. Scheffler, already a four-time winner and a lock to be voted PGA TOUR player of the year, opened with rounds of 65-66 and at times has threatened to turn the TOUR Championship into a runaway.

He stalled Saturday, and all that did was expand the possibilities.

Open Championship winner Cameron Smith is a three-time winner this season and would have needed to win to make it a race for player of the year. He had a 68 and was 11 shots behind.

SECOND ROUND

ATLANTA — Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is playing every bit like the No. 1 player in golf and was on the verge of takng a big lead into Saturday at the TOUR Championship.

Three holes by Xander Schauffele changed everything going into the weekend at East Lake.

Schauffele holed a pair of birdie putts, and then drilled a 4-iron just over the bunker and right by the hole on the par-5 18th, rolling in a 5-foot eagle putt.

The birdie-birdie-eagle finish — Scheffler had to settle for pars — gave Schauffele a 7-under 63 as he went from a six-shot deficit to two shots behind Friday.”

Schauffele rarely gets overly excited and this was no exception.

“It was nice to pick up some shots late here, but it’s just a positioning battle going into Sunday,” he said. “There’s a lot of golf to be played on this property.

Scheffler wasn’t overly concerned. He rarely is.

“I’m just going to go out there and do my thing and try and play good golf,” Scheffler said. “Xander obviously has a great track record around here, but paying attention to what other guys do on the golf course has never served me too well.”

Scheffler, who had a 66, is at 19-under par.

He started at 10-under par as the No. 1 seed in the FedExCup — Schauffele started four shots behind as the No. 4 seed — and had few complaints except for not making every birdie chance, and they were ample.

Scheffler played bogey-free. The four putts from 10 feet or closer that he missed? He saw those only as opportunities, a reminder that he was playing the kind of golf that carried him to an amazing stretch of four wins in two months — capped by the Masters — in the spring.

Starting the day with a five-shot lead, Scheffler made birdies from 5 feet on the par-3 second hole and then pounded driver on the next hole so perfectly positioned that he had a flip wedge into 5 feet for another birdie. At that point, he was ahead by eight shots.

Jon Rahm also had a 63 and worked his way closer to the top at 13 under. He was being interviewed when he looked up at a TV screen to see if Scheffler had made another birdie.

He still was six shots behind. Defending champion Patrick Cantlay (66) and Sungjae Im (65) are seven shots back.

Rahm wasn’t sure if he put himself back in the mix, but his 63 made it feel more reasonable.

“But he’s playing good golf, right? And we’re going to have to keep on going and play good golf, as well,” Rahm said. “It’s going to take a really strong weekend from me and hopefully not a strong one from Scottie. That’s kind of what we’re looking for.”

Schauffele seemed to find that at the end. He was six behind when he hit his approach to 12 feet behind a back left pin on the 16th and made the birdie. From the fairway on the 17th, his wedge spun back to 4 feet.

The 4-iron on 18 was bold and paid off.

“It was a little right of where I wanted, but it had the distance and the shape. I hit it really well, so I wasn’t very worried about it,” Schauffele said. “Just trying to make sure to cover that corner and I hit it solid so I knew it was going to cover. For it to go to 5, 6 feet was definitely a bonus.”

Schauffele’s record around East Lake is astounding since he first arrived in 2017 as a PGA TOUR rookie and won. The FedExCup was different that year, before FedExCup Starting Strokes were introduced. Justin Thomas won the big bonus.

When it moved to the staggered start based on seedings, he had the low score over 72 holes.

No matter the format, Schauffele has never shot worse than par in 22 rounds. He has only two rounds at 70, the other 20 in the 60s.

That’s not on his mind. Neither is the deficit he shrunk to two shots over the final three holes.

“There’s a lot at stake here, and staying present is going to be the hardest thing,” he said.

At stake is the $18 million bonus and a chance to end the year with four PGA TOUR titles. Scheffler wants to end the best year in golf with a fitting crown. Seven months ago, he still was looking for his first PGA TOUR title.

The best score of the soft, sunny days belonged to Max Homa, who had a 62 and still is 10 shots behind.

FIRST ROUND

ATLANTA — Scottie Scheffler might have had a roller coaster of an opening round Thursday at the TOUR Championship if only he had been paying attention to the scoreboards.

Scheffler started with a two-shot lead as the No. 1 seed in the FedExCup. He led by as many as six shots on the front nine. Then his lead was down to two. And when he finished with three straight birdies for a 5-under 65, he was five strokes ahead of Xander Schauffele.

“I didn’t know any of that,” he said. “I was just trying to go out and shoot a good number.”

Rory McIlroy’s day at East Lake was far more wild. And he knew it.

A two-time FedExCup champion, McIlroy started six shots behind. He teed off in a downpour and hooked his tee shot over the fence and out-of-bounds. He reloaded and found a bunker. He missed a 6-foot putt and took triple bogey, and just like that was nine shots behind.

And then he went rough-to-rough to make bogey on the next hole. McIlroy had only one par on the front nine and remarkably salvaged a 67.

“Not the best way to start,” McIlroy said. “The golf course is really gettable, so I knew there was a lot of holes out there that you could birdie. I knew my game was good. It was just one of those things. Not the ideal way to start, but proud of how I bounced back from that.”

Equally impressive was Open Championship winner Cameron Smith, playing for the first time since the opening FedExCup Playoff event because of a hip injury that gets aggravated in soft conditions. East Lake wasn’t quite a real lake, but overnight rain and the downpour made for a good walk spoiled.

And so began the final leg in the chase for the FedExCup and the $18 million prize. Scheffler has had the best year with his Masters victory among three wins against strong fields. He would love nothing more than to finish it off, and he played that way.

His 3-iron from 230 yards up the hill to 15 feet led to eagle on the sixth hole. He dropped only one shot, going from bunker over the green at the par-3 ninth and having to make an understated 10-foot putt to escape with bogey.

And then he had a big finish, capped off by going from the left rough over the water to 30 feet for a two-putt birdie to reach 15-under par (which accounts for his 10-under start).

U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick finished with an eagle for a bogey-free 64 and was six shots behind — he matched the best round of the soggy day and gained only one shot on Scheffler — while Joaquin Niemann (64) and defending FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay (70) were another shot behind.

Schauffele is dangerous as ever, and his record at East Lake is astounding for someone who has never left Atlanta in possession of a trophy. This was his 21st round in the TOUR Championship, and his 19th round under par. The other two were even-par 70s.

He had the low 72-hole score in 2020 but started too far behind to catch Dustin Johnson.

“It’s a weird event,” Schauffele said. “We do this once a year, and it’s one of the bigger events for us to do it. Because of those things, you just have to try your best to stay in the present and not get ahead of it. Tuck your head and play your best golf.”

Weirder still was an injury that Scheffler mentioned from the weekend at The Open, where he went into Sunday in the mix and shot 74. He had never disclosed it and wasn’t entirely comfortable getting into the details except to say he was in pain.

“I had what’s called a pilonidal infection. It’s an infection at the top of your butt crack,” he said, trying not to crack a smile. “You can look it up. It was really hard for me to bend down. It was really hard for me to make a swing on Sunday. Walking was actually extremely difficult.

“Just one of those things that happened.”

All part of what already has been a remarkable year, and now is 54 holes away from becoming even more memorable.

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