Masterful McIlroy puts his Sunday blues to bed
Rory McIlroy insists he's ready to finally clinch that elusive Green Jacket after he put his Sunday heartbreak behind him with a St Patrick's Day win in The Players Championship.
After nine failures to win in the final group over the last 13 months, the Holywood talent was a class apart in the penultimate group yesterday, carding a two-under 70 in tough Sawgrass conditions to win by a shot from Jim Furyk on 16-under par and gather momentum for a tilt at his fifth Major win.
It was a hugely significant victory for McIlroy (29) who is the clear favourite to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters in three weeks' time.
"It's very special," McIlroy said, explaining that his recent close calls have been building blocks towards making the next 10 years as successful as his first decade.
"It means everything. This is one of the tournaments I desperately wanted to put on my CV.
"Even though I have had all those close calls this year, they didn't mean anything.
"If anything, they were good for me. I think all those experiences led me to this point and ultimately they were good for me because it got me over the line today."
"If I hadn't won today I'd have said I don't need a win going to Augusta but it is very nice to get a win, especially doing it on this golf course - a golf course that will play a little bit similar to Augusta in a few weeks.
"I can take a lot from this. It has taken me a few weeks to get to this point but I feel like I am playing some of the best golf of my life right now and I just need to keep doing the same things."
Not only did he keep his patience after a needless double-bogey six at the fourth, he responded coolly to every move on a packed leaderboard to claim his 15th PGA Tour win, a cheque for $2.25 million (€2m), and a move to fourth in the world.
One behind Jon Rahm starting out, he was still two shots behind the Spaniard with eight holes to go but brilliantly birdied the par-five ninth and 11th, then made a 12-footer for birdie at the driveable 12th to nip in front.
As Rahm faded, eventually finishing tied 12th after a 76, England's Eddie Pepperell and Colombia's Jhonattan Vegas set the target at 14-under with superb 66s before being overtaken by the evergreen Furyk (48), who birdied the last from three feet to finish 15-under with a 67.
While McIlroy failed to save par from sand at the 14th to find himself one behind Furyk, he cut a 181-yard fairway bunker shot around trees to 13 feet at the 15th, fist-pumping as the putt dropped sweetly into the hole.
"The birdie on 12 was huge," he said. "But to get that birdie on 15 after the dropped shot on 14 as massive."
McIlroy took a giant step towards the title by reducing the par-five 16th to a 347-yard drive, a 178-yard eight-iron and two putts from 20 feet to move ahead, then parred the last two holes.
"I knew 16 was a good chance and then to hit three good shots when I needed them on the last two holes, that gives me a lot of confidence going forward," McIlroy added.
"It's a great start to the season and a massive win and the way I played those last few holes gives me so much confidence going forward."
Seamus Power (32) closed with a 69 to finish tied for 35th on five-under after a memorable debut that saw him ace the 155-yard third in the third round.
He also earned $60,313 (€53,000) and a badly-needed jump to 180th in the FedExCup points list after nine missed cuts in his previous 11 starts this year.
On the European Tour, Michael Hoey closed with a three-under 68 to tie for 17th on seven-under alongside Cormac Sharvin, who shot a one-over 72, in the Magical Kenya Open in Nairobi.