McIlroy's single-minded success
Golf’s most eligible bachelor seems happy staying just that – for the foreseeable future anyway – after winning the US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Since calling off his engagement with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki in May, Rory McIlroy has turned a period of (not so) private turmoil into unprecedented professional success.
The very week he made the spilt from Wozniacki public (just after the wedding invitations had been sent out), McIlroy won the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Little more than a month later he captured the Open Championship’s coveted Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool before adding the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title to his suddenly bulging résumé in his very next outing.
Now, after a gritty comeback in one of the most dramatic major championship Sunday’s of the modern era, McIlroy his clinging onto the US PGA Championship’s massive Wannamaker trophy for a second time in three years. And, it seems, the single life despite being romantically linked to receptionist and part-time Irish model Sasha Gale.
The world No.1 won six titles during his three year relationship with Wozniacki. In the three months since their spilt, he’s won just two fewer titles and three of golf’s biggest tournaments in succession.
“I’ve put a little bit more time into my golf and refocused in a way. It’s the only thing I have, I’ve got my family and my friends, but I just immersed myself in my game,” McIlroy said after the third round of the PGA Championship.
“I’ve practiced hard and I’ve done all the right things and I’m reaping the rewards. Golf is the number one priority to me and while I’m on this run of form I want to try and keep it going as long as possible.”
McIlroy took a one-stroke lead into a rain-delayed final round at Valhalla overnight but found himself three off the pace at the turn as American Rickie Fowler took the lead. But a stunning eagle three on the 10th followed by birdies on 13 and 17 saw McIlroy complete a gritty back-nine comeback as he signed for three-under-par 68 to win by one from Phil Mickelson with a 16-under-par total of 268.
“I didn’t think in my wildest dreams I would have a summer like this…I just played the best golf of my life,” said McIlroy who became the first player since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to win back-to-back majors, and, at 25 years and 98 days, the third youngest player in modern history to win four of golf’s bigs.
“I gutted it out today, it was a little different to my previous major wins. I think I showed a lot of guts to get the job done.”
McIlroy opened up a mammoth lead over his rivals in the European Tour’s season-long Race to Dubai money race with his win in near darkness at Valhalla.
The record single-season prize money total on The European Tour is the €5,519,118 McIlroy himself amassed in 2012 as he topped The Race to Dubai and won the DP World Tour Championship. But with 100 days to go until this year’s season-ending showcase at Jumeirah Golf Estates from November 20-23, and the big-money Final Series still to come, McIlroy, already has an eye-watering €5,120,709 with Sergio Garcia in second place on €2,273,917.
It was another great weekend for European Tour players as defending DP World Tour Championship and Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson went out in a breathtaking 30 shots in the final round at Valhalla and signed for five-under-par 66 to take a share of third place with Fowler on 14-under-par. That moves the Swede up to fourth place on The Race to Dubai with €1,696,231.
Finland’s Mikko Ilonen continued his fine season by taking a share of seventh place on 11-under-par while South Africa’s Ernie Els and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson also reached the same total. Inaugural DP World Tour Championship winner Lee Westwood, who was tied for the lead after the opening round, finished tied 15th on nine-under-par and was joined by Louis Oosthuizen, Mark Warren and Charl Schwartzel.
All will be in the line-up when the DP World Tour Championship gets underway in November, forming what promises to be one of the most star-studded fields since the tournament began in 2009.
Ryder Cup consolation
Meanwhile, Mickelson had some consolation after his runner-up finish as he extended his American record by qualifying for his 10th consecutive Ryder Cup team.
Masters champion Bubba Watson led the final US points list for the first time and will play in his third Ryder Cup. He was followed by Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walker, Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson.
Mickelson’s timely return to form will be a relief to US captain Tom Watson ahead of the September 26-28 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland.
It had been a thoroughly depressing PGA Championship for Watson until Sunday with Jason Dufner calling it quits halfway through Thursday’s opening round with a neck injury that also ended his Ryder Cup dreams. Tiger Woods then followed Dufner to the season-ending sick bay after missing the cut on Friday with his sore back.
All this after big-hitting Dustin Johnson, who had comfortably qualified for the US team, declared he was taking a voluntary leave from the game to confront what he described as “personal challenges”.
Watson will name his three captain’s picks on September 2. The 10 automatic European picks will be finalized after the Italian Open on August 31, before captain Paul McGinley names his two picks the same day as Watson.
Europe are overwhelming favourites for the Ryder Cup, not that McGinley is getting ahead of himself.
“We will not be underestimating them,” McGinley said Sunday.
Nor will anyone dare underestimate the prodigiously talented, and single, Mr McIlroy ever again.
The top 10 European Tour Race to Dubai Rankings as of 11 August:
- Rory MCILROY €5,120,709
- Sergio GARCIA €2,273,917
- Thomas BJORN €1,696,231
- Henrik STENSON €1,691,231
- Martin KAYMER €1,570,937
- Jamie DONALDSON €1,538,785
- Justin ROSE €1,503,781
- Victor DUBUISSON €1,458,102
- Stephen GALLACHER €1,284,633
- 10. Louis OOSTHUIZEN €1,226,249