Sport Golf

Monday 26 August 2019

Rory McIlroy breaks another Danish heart at Wentworth

Rory keeps his mind on the prize as Wentworth provides perfect refuge

Rory McIlroy poses with the PGA Championship trophy
Rory McIlroy poses with the PGA Championship trophy
Rory McIlroy fires his ball into the crowd after his birdie on the 18th hole secured victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth
Rory McIlroy sprays champagne following his victory at the end of day four of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth
Rory McIlroy lines up a putt during day four of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth

Karl MacGinty at Wentworth

Rory McIlroy looked down at the gleaming BMW PGA Championship Trophy and asked the question which was on the lips of the world.

"How the hell did it happen this week," McIlroy mused, shrugging his shoulders.

How indeed?

The 25-year-old has won two Major Championships and twice has been to the top of the world in a career of glittering achievement.

Yet, to emerge from a week of whirling emotions with the European Tour's most prestigious prize goes well beyond the usual bounds of sporting endeavour.

It stands apart as a feat of astonishing mental strength and focus achieved in the centre ring of a media circus.

The final-round 66 which propelled McIlroy past commanding overnight leader Thomas Bjorn to 14-under par, one stroke clear of his close friend and former Irish amateur team-mate Shane Lowry, heralds the opening of a new chapter in the life and career of the Holywood star.

If McIlroy can set aside the anguish inevitably caused by last week's break-up with fiancee Caroline Wozniacki and prevail against one of the strongest fields assembled by the European Tour, it's fair to ask who or, indeed, what can stop his march back to the pinnacle of world golf.

Bricklayers and barristers, bus conductors, brain surgeons ... most people simply get up and go to work next morning after a close personal relationship fractures.


The difference for McIlroy, however, is that from the moment of last Wednesday's stunning announcement of the end of his engagement, his personal heartache was thrust into the global spotlight.

He may have turned off his phone and given away his laptop, adopting what he described as a lifestyle from "sixties or seventies", but McIlroy was faced with reminders at every turn over the past five days, whether it was on the newsstands, under media questioning or in the eyes of sympathetic tour colleagues.

"I guess when I got inside the ropes this week, it was a little bit of a release," he explained.

"I was on my own and doing what I do best, which is playing golf.

"It sort of gave me four or five hours of serenity or sanctuary or whatever you want to call it.

"I was just focussing on the job at hand – to get the ball in the hole in the lowest numbers of shots possible.

"Yeah, I can't explain it. It's obviously been a week of very mixed emotions but I'm sitting here looking at this trophy going, 'How the hell – how did it happen this week'," McIlroy added, shrugging his shoulders.

"But it did and it's a great way to end the week."

Admitting he had mixed emotions, McIlroy went on: "I was asked in an interview earlier, 'How do you feel' and I said, 'I don't know. I don't know how I feel'. Obviously, I feel happy that I won but, yeah, it's been a weird week."

And wonderful, not just for McIlroy but also Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who has seen Europe's 'Tiger' spectacularly dismiss all fears of a lengthy emotional fallout similar to that from which Sergio Garcia has only recently recovered. McIlroy equalled the championship record by coming from seven behind third-round leader Bjorn to achieve his 12th victory worldwide; sixth on the European Tour and, surprisingly, first as a professional either in continental Europe, the United Kingdom or Ireland.

Vitally, Mother Nature played her part in this tour de force. As at Congressional in 2011, when McIlroy rebounded from his Sunday meltdown at the Masters 70 days earlier, to register a sensational, record-shattering victory at the US Open, the rain was key.

"With it being so soft, the Wentworth played a lot differently. It played into my hands. It played a lot longer," he said.

"Balls weren't bouncing off fairways into the rough and you weren't getting big bounces on greens," he said, explaining a phenomenon which often frustrated him on the West Course.

McIlroy's €791,660 winner's cheque catapulted him from 15th place to second behind Bjorn in the Race to Dubai after just six counting events in the Europe's Order of Merit.

His ninth top-10 in 11 stroke play events this year propels the Ulsterman back into the top six in the world.

However, victory at Wentworth, McIlroy's first since December's Australian Open success at Sydney drew a line under a year of frustration and disappointment in 2013, gave him a huge confidence boost going to Memorial this week and, even more significantly, the US Open at Pinehurst a fortnight later.

McIlroy's only the second Irishman in history to win this title and you have to go back as far as 1958 to find the other, Harry Bradshaw.

However, yesterday was made utterly unforgettable for the Irish as McIlroy joined Lowry in a thrilling Celtic battle down the stretch as Bjorn, who'd led the field by five overnight, collapsed in a way reminiscent of his final-day implosion at the 2005 European Open at The K Club.

There was nothing in the Dane's closing 75 as calamitous as the 11 he'd made on the 17th that year at the Palmer Course.

Instead, the bell tolled for Bjorn at the par four seventh, where he conceded the outright lead with an ugly triple-bogey after taking two to get out of a fairway bunker.

Luke Donald also made seven out of the trees at that hole but, unlike Bjorn, the Englishman found his scoring touch with five birdies over the next nine holes to propel himself into contention for a second BMW PGA title.

Like Lowry, Donald needed an eagle at the last to force a playoff after McIlroy, who turned in two-under 34 and slipped into overdrive with a brilliant chip-in birdie at 10, had set the target on 14-under by picking-up four more in the final seven holes.

Donald fell into a share of third with Bjorn on 12-under after hitting his all-or-nothing second shot into the water on the way to a par at 18 and a round of 70.

Victory belonged to Rory McIlroy as, ironically, another Danish heart was broken.

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