Saturday 7 December 2019

Rory McIlroy ends difficult week with fairytale win at Wentworth

Phil Casey

A week which began with personal heartache ended in professional triumph as Rory McIlroy came from seven shots behind to claim a remarkable victory in the BMW PGA Championship on Sunday.

Just four days after a visibly upset McIlroy revealed he had called off his wedding to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki after the invitations had been sent out, the 25-year-old carded a closing 66 to win the European Tour's flagship event following a dramatic final day.

McIlroy only took the outright lead for the first time with a birdie on the 71st hole and made another on the last to finish 14 under par, one ahead of Ireland's Shane Lowry, with two-time winner Luke Donald and overnight leader Thomas Bjorn a shot behind in third.

"It's been a great day," said McIlroy, who had missed the cut in each of his last two appearances in the event. "Going out seven behind I did not really expect to be in this position.

"Thomas was playing very well and I thought I would need something really spectacular to catch him but walking off the 11th tee I saw I was only two behind and thought I had a chance."

In the aftermath of his split from Wozniacki, McIlroy had left his phone turned off and even given away his laptop, and he added: "When I was inside the ropes it was a little bit of a release. I was on my own, doing what I do best and it gave me four or five hours of serenity or sanctuary, whatever you call it.

"I can't explain it. It's obviously a week of mixed emotions. I am looking at the trophy saying 'How the hell did it happen?' I was asked in an interview how I feel and I don't know. I feel happy that I've won but it's been a weird week."

Lowry had briefly been three clear when he started the back nine with a hat-trick of birdies, but drove into trouble on the 13th and ran up a double-bogey six, while Bjorn was left to reflect on squandering a five-shot overnight lead that brought back unwanted memories of his collapse in the final round of the Open at Royal St George's in 2003.

But ultimately the week belonged to McIlroy, who kickstarted his challenge with an eagle from 15 feet on the fourth, his ball teetering on the edge of the hole for several seconds before dropping in.

Two bogeys and a birdie in the next five holes took McIlroy to the turn in 34 and left him three off the pace, but the two-time major winner chipped in for birdie on the 10th and also picked up shots on the 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th to seal his first professional win on European soil.

"It's been 18 months since I won on the European Tour and to win the flagship event, I could not have asked for any more," added McIlroy, whose seven-shot final-round comeback equalled the largest in the championship's history and also made him the first winner from Northern Ireland.

""I knew coming in here I was playing well. I struggled a little on Friday but played great over the weekend. I was a little fortunate that some of the guys ahead of me made mistakes and I took advantage of it.

"My caddie JP (Fitzgerald) set me the target of 15 under today. I didn't quite get there but 14 under was enough. I really wanted to win before going into the second major of the season (the US Open from June 12-15) and I could not have asked for a better way to prepare."

Bjorn threw the tournament wide open when he and playing partner Donald both ran up triple bogeys on the sixth, the Dane taking two shots to escape from a fairway bunker and finding more sand with his fourth shot.

Donald responded with five birdies in his next 10 holes - chipping in on the 13th and 16th - but crucially failed to birdie the 17th which meant he needed an eagle on the last to tie.

Bjorn also needed a three on the 18th after birdies on the 16th and 17th, but after Donald had found the water with his approach, the 43-year-old's approach came up well short of the flag.

"Obviously I would love to take that sixth hole back today, as would Thomas, but I was proud of the way I came back and fought back after that to be five under for the last 12," Donald said.

"I gave it a shot at the last but came up about a couple feet short, but I'm happy for Rory. We all know what he's been going through and sometimes making those tough decisions maybe takes a weight off your mind in a way and he can engulf himself in the golf."

Lowry was also happy for his friend McIlroy but added: "I feel very unlucky. I know I hit a poor tee shot (on 13) but found myself in probably the only bush like that on the course and was struggling from there.

"But to hole the birdie putt on the last and to finish second on my own is really nice."

Latest leading positions in the European Tour's Race to Dubai after the BMW PGA Championship:

1 Thomas Bjorn (Den) 1,196,739

2 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 1,054,802

3 Jamie Donaldson (Wal) 1,004,474

4 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 842,301

5 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa) 778,438

6 Sergio Garcia (Spa) 758,596

7 Victor Dubuisson (Fra) 712,538

8 Stephen Gallacher (Sco) 682,941

9 Jonas Blixt (Swe) 629,899

10 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 578,045

11 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 570,963

12 Lee Westwood (Eng) 543,616

13 Joost Luiten (Ned) 521,119

14 George Coetzee (Rsa) 490,029

15 Shane Lowry (Irl) 456,450

16 Branden Grace (Rsa) 445,621

17 Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 445,563

18 Alexander Levy (Fra) 430,094

19 Thomas Aiken (Rsa) 417,834

20 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 405,861

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