Sport Golf

Saturday 3 December 2016

Rory McIlroy sets sights on $10m FedEx bonus as hot putter seals deal

Published 06/09/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy with the trophy after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy with the trophy after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

A happy Rory McIlroy, a winning Rory McIlroy envelops his fans in a warm fuzzy glow of exuberant delight.

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This is the man the galleries rose to acclaim at The K Club in May as he spectacularly took control of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to become only the third home winner of the championship in 34 years.

A box ticked, a career goal achieved, and all was well with the world.

By contrast a dejected McIlroy, looking as if he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, such as we witnessed when he missed the cut at the US Open and the US PGA Championship this summer, is a real buzz wrecker.

McIlroy's slump on the greens cost him dearly through the season but out of the ashes of discontent came a renewed desire to find a solution.

Back in May, McIlroy employed a left-hand-below putting grip in winning the Irish Open.

A few weeks later he had gone back to the orthodox grip. He said at the US PGA he did not really work with any putting coach at that time, that he preferred to find his own method.

That was July. This is September. Putting guru Phil Kenyon was consulted. Kenyon is based at Formby Hall in Lancashire and has worked with many Major champions, including US Open winner Justin Rose and Open champion Henrik Stenson.

A long-term plan was put in place, but almost overnight, or so it seems, the man who was 130th on Tour in strokes gained putting has become a veritable 'boss of the moss' over the last four days of the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.

The stroke looks solid and is confidently executed.

Consistent ball contact off the middle of the putter-face. Excellent speed control, such as he displayed in negotiating a 75-foot putt across the slopes on the 169-yard par-three 16th yesterday and then held the three-foot putt for a crucial par.

Good green reading. Give McIlroy confidence on the putting surface, and he has everything he needs to get that loping strut into his stride that signals a man on top of his game.

The outcome was a thrilling comeback to the big time as McIlroy overcame a six-shot starting deficit to defeat overnight leader Paul Casey by two shots and hurl himself to the centre of the FedEx Cup race.

He got around in 65 blows on a day when the Tour chiefs decided they needed to get the field moving at 7.0am, playing in three-balls with a two-tee start to get the $8.5m event finished before the residue of Hurricane Hermine could destroy the final day of the tournament.

They got it finished, just in time. The wind was a factor all day and more so in the closing stages when it became, in Alex Ferguson's famous words, 'squeaky bum time.'

No wonder he felt proud of his performance. Speaking to Sky Sports, McIlroy said: "From three holes in at this tournament, at four over par, there was a lot of things going through my mind.

"One of them was not winning this golf tournament. Sixty-nine holes later at 19 under par after those first three holes, I played some great golf and held some great putts this week.

"I'm just really proud of myself at how I hung in after that first day, and then to get some momentum on Saturday, and just go with it.

"It's nice to get that first win in the States this year and hopefully this momentum I can obviously bring on to the next couple of weeks, and then ultimately the Ryder Cup and trying to help Team Europe win another one of those."

Tee to green, McIlroy pretty much had everything in proper order, bar his one bogey on the 17th where he drove into rough, then landed his ball into a bunker off the second shot and failed to get up and down.

Five birdies on the outward nine served notice of his intentions to seriously affect the destination of the $1.8m first prize, and the 2000 FedEx Cup points on offer.

Two of the birdies - on holes four and seven - came courtesy of excellent bunker play, getting up and down each time.

The one on the eighth required steady nerves and firm commitment to line and pace, and he got his reward when slotting that one from 20 feet. A ten-footer dropped in obligingly for another birdie on the ninth, and he turned in 31 shots.

Casey never found the vim and vigour that hallmarked his play in the first three rounds. Slightly tentative on the greens, he left a number of birdie attempts just shy of the cup.

Momentum

He did very little wrong, but never found the momentum he needed to get McIlroy on the back foot.

A 73 for 13-under gave Casey solo second place ahead of US PGA champion Jimmy Walker.

The 12th hole, a par-four of 461 yards, proved pivotal in returning McIlroy to the winner's circle.

It cost him a treble-bogey seven in round one, and a double-bogey in round three.

Yesterday McIlroy had its measure, with a drive, pitch to 20 feet and one-putt birdie to go one ahead of Casey at 15 under.

The error at 17 left him one ahead again, but driver, three-wood to a greenside bunker on the 530-yard 18th offered one last birdie chance.

McIlroy took it in style, splashing the ball out to inside two feet and making the four look easy.

"I knew I needed to get it up and down. My bunker play has been really good all week," he said.

"I just needed to flip it up there, and as long as it landed over a little ridge it was going to release a little bit.

"It was great to hit that bunker shot when I needed it. Nice to get the four and wrap the tournament up."

The last time McIlroy won the Deutsche Bank in 2012, he followed up with a victory in the BMW Championship, which starts on Thursday.

That is now in his sights, as is the overall FedEx Cup, with its bonus pool of $10m for the champion.

The money does not motivate McIlroy. "It's one of the last things that I'd like on my golf CV is to win the FedEx Cup. I've won Race to Dubai and order of merits and been the leading money winner on the PGA Tour, but never won a FedEx Cup.

"The next two tournaments are huge for me to do that."

Irish Independent

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