Wednesday 11 December 2019

Horschel hits the jackpot as Rory runs into wall

Rory McIlroy effectively hit the wall on the front line in Atlanta. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy effectively hit the wall on the front line in Atlanta. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy was expected to hit the biggest jackpot in golf yesterday as 'Hotlanta', as locals accurately describe their native city, was cloaked by Irish mist and intermittent soft rain.

Instead, it was Ireland of the sorrows at East Lake as McIlroy, clearly fatigued after his heroics of high summer and eight tournaments in 10 weeks, finally paid the price for imprecision during a final round 71 that left him tied second with Jim Furyk in the Tour Championship on eight-under.

The Tour Championshiip and FedEX Cup double, worth a whopping $11.44m, went instead to Billy Horschel, who finished three clear. This was his sixth event in a row since the US PGA and the 27-year-old is bristling with momentum since finishing second at the Deutsche Bank in Boston and winning the BMW at Cherry Hills.

McIlroy earned $758,000 for his runner-up finish in the tournament, while third place in the FedEX Cup netted him a $2m bonus. "I am tired," he admitted. "I'm looking forward to a few days off and not seeing my golf clubs for a little while.

"Then when I'm ready and I'm excited to get back out, I'll get ready for the Ryder Cup."

Horschel needed to dig deep during his final round 68 to hold off a determined Sunday afternoon surge by that formidable stayer Furyk, 44, winner of the Tour Championship and FedEX Cup in teeming rain here in 2010.

Ferociously

The defining moment for Horschel came at the par four 16th. As Furyk snapped ferociously at his heels, the 27-year-old blazed his tee shot right and into trees at 16, could only chip back out to the fairway and, after leaving his approach 21 feet short, holed the putt.

After that, Horschel was bullet proof while Furyk, as is his wont in contention on Sundays in latter years, slipped two shots back with an untimely bogeys at 17 and 18 for a closing 69.

Furyk's noble effort wasn't the only echo from the recent past at the US Tour's season-ending finale as McIlroy hit yet another hugely expensive mid-iron shot from the tee at the treacherous par-three sixth, his ball hooking left into the lake.

Just as he did on his way to the Sunday 74 at East Lake that allowed Brandt Snedeker whip the 2012 FedEx Cup from under the nose of Holywood's World No 1, McIlroy made double-bogey there.

After tenaciously fighting his way back into contention with Friday's fabulous 65, followed by a superb run down the straight on Saturday for 67 and a share of the lead, despite "not playing my best golf by any stretch this week", indifferent form eventually caught up on him yesterday.

Though he holed from 20 feet to match Horschel's sweet birdie at four, McIlroy slipped behind to another birdie by the American at five before that shocker at six.

In an effort to make up ground on the only par five on the front nine, McIlroy blazed a wild drive way right into the trees where his ball wound-up on the wrong side of and impossibly close to a large fence.

Not entitled to relief, he played a hit-and-hope shot over the obstacle into the right rough, laid up to 110 yards then missed the green right on his way to a damning six.

His second three-putt bogey in 24 hours at 10, followed by another dropped shot after missing the green at the par three 11th scuppered his chances.

Still, McIlroy remains a battler and a creditable hat-trick of birdies on 15, 16 and 17 clinched him that share of second place, quite an effort when one considers the bruising earlier events and he paid due tribute to Hoschel for "a thoroughly well-deserved" double victory.

"I'm sort of happy I made those three birdies coming in. It jumped me up the leaderboard a little bit and at least finished the day respectably."

This cash bonanza more than doubles Horschel's career earnings to nearly $20m and hardly could have come at a better time as his wife Brittany prepares for the impending birth of their first child, a daughter they'll name Skylar.

It's patently clear that the race for places on the US Ryder Cup team finished several weeks too early on Sunday at the US PGA Championship, while captain Tom Watson's wild card picks definitely would be different today than they were a fortnight ago.

While Watson saw Chris Kirk triumph ar the Deutsche Bank Championship and still decided to call-up Ryder Cup veterans Hunter Mahan, winner of the Barclays, Phil Mickelson's passionate playing partner Bradley Keegan and Bubba Watson's wing man at Medinah Webb Simpson.

Horschel's prospects of making a decisive impression on the venerable Watson were not helped by a final hole calamity at TPC Boston which let Kirk off the hook but the 27-year-old Florida's recent efforts make his absence glaring.

McIlroy was talking about his playing companion in the final 36 holes here when he said on Saturday: "You know, I'm sure Tom Watson is kicking himself at the minute with some of the … anyway Billy's playing great. That's another story."

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