Rory Produces Stunning FedEx Cup Victory
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
KER-CHING! Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With Dustin Johnson tumbling down the leaderboard and Kevin Chappell in control of the Tour Championship, Rory McIlroy stood in the middle of the 16th fairway, took aim and struck a towering shot that landed on the green, bounced a couple of times and disappeared into the hole for an eagle two that took him to within a shot of the lead.
Excited? You bet he was. The Northern Irishman bounced up and down, slapped his thigh and went to celebrate with his caddie, JP Fitzgerald. Exciting? Oh yes. The crowd cheered him every inch of the way to the green, until he reached the putting surface, retrieved the ball from the hole and threw the ball into the crowd.
It was the shot of the day and it set him to collect $11.5m for winning both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup after eventually beating Ryan Moore at the fourth extra hole.
Chappell has had an outstanding season but he hasn't won. After McIlroy's eagle he was 11 under par, level with Ryan Moore and one behind Chappell.
The story of the day had been the collapse of Johnson. The US Open champion birdied the third and seventh holes, but dropped shots at the fifth, sixth and eighth and then threw in a double-bogey at the 12th to end his chances of winning the tournament.
The smart money had been on Chappell being the man who would fold, but he played quite superbly. The 30-year-old reached the turn in 33 and then birdied the 10th and 13th. And just moments after McIlroy's magic, Chappell hit his second at the 16th to five feet and holed the putt for a three to move to 13 under and go two ahead.
Justin Thomas, desperately hoping for the final Ryder Cup wildcard pick from Davis Love, finished the week with a moustache and a round of 67 for a five-under-par total and a share of sixth place. By the time he reappeared for his media interviews, the moustache had gone. "I wanted to get rid of it so badly," he said. "It was starting to get on my nerves. Now I have to wait to find out if I have done enough to make the team. I have never wanted anything so badly."
Back on the course, the drama still wasn't finished. Moore holed a 20-foot putt for a birdie at the 17th to close the gap on Chappell to one shot and McIlroy was unable to follow him in so went to the 18th knowing that he needed to make an eagle and hope it was good enough.
Before the tournament began, the smart money was on the final Ryder Cup berth going to one of Bubba Watson, Moore or Thomas. Watson moved up six places thanks to a final round of 67. And with Moore and Thomas both in the mix and Chappell leading the way, the US captain was sure to be nursing a king-sized headache.
Chappell hit his drive at the 17th to the right and found a horrible lie in the rough. He could only advance the ball into a greenside bunker, with no guarantee of getting up and down in two. This tournament still wasn't over. His bunker shot left him with a 12-foot putt for a par and he never looked like holing it, recording only his third bogey of the week. So he went to the last tied with Moore on 12 under.
McIlroy carved his drive at the last miles right, while Moore was in the left-hand rough with no chance of reaching the green in two. McIlroy thrashed a three wood from the rough and, incredibly, managed to get the ball into a greenside bunker. Moore hit his third shot about eight feet from the hole, leaving him with a putt to moved ahead of Chappell. Tantalisingly, the ball horse-shoed out of the hole and ran three feet beyond the cup. He holed the next one for 64 and a 12-under total of 268.
McIlroy almost holed his bunker shot but had to be content with a birdie four, a round of 64 and also a 12-under total. He required just 30 blows to complete the back nine.
So it all came down to Chappell, knowing he had to make a birdie on the 18th. Like Moore, he went left from the tee and had to lay up, some 100 yards short but his third shot was a poor one, finishing fully 25 feet from the hole. He had to hole it to win his first event on the PGA Tour and change his life forever.
While all of this drama was going on, Johnson was still limping along at five under par - if he could remain there, he would finish the week at FedEx champion and walk away from East Lake with a cheque for $10m tucked into his trouser pocket. But by the time he reached the 18th green, it was out of his hands. If Chappell could hole his putt on the final green then Johnson would be walking off with the money, but he came up three feet short. He made the par putt to join McIlroy and Moore in a playoff.
The equation was simple enough - a win for McIlroy would give him both the tournament and the big money, a win for Chappell or Moore would give the FedEx Cup to the Dustinator.
The three men went back to the 18th tee. Chappell and Moore both found the left rough, while McIlroy's drive finished more than 50 yards ahead, on the flat ground. He could go for it in two, the others had no chance. But they both received huge breaks. Moore was standing on a sprinkler head and was able to drop his ball, while a spectator picked up Chappell's ball (why do they do that?) and he, too, was given a drop.
McIlroy watched the other two come up well short and then struck another magnificent iron shot to six feet. Chappell hit his third over the flag but left himself a fast, downhill putt. Moore's third came to rest eight feet away. Chappell missed but Moore made his putt, so McIlroy had to make his putt to win, but the ball lipped out. One man down. McIlroy and Moore left standing.
This time both men found the left rough and Moore's lie was so bad that he could little more than chip out sideways and he barely made the green with his third, while McIlroy hit a low hook that came up 50 yards short and then struck a poor pitch. Two pars followed and off they went to the par-three 15th, where McIlroy finished 65 feet from the hole, with Moore in the collar of rough beside the green. McIlroy left his putt 10 feet short. Advantage Moore, and he played a wonderful shot, chipping the ball to 12 inches.
McIlroy had to hole his par putt to keep things going, and in it went. Now it was off to the 16th, with daylight beginning to fade. After both men found the fairway, Moore hit his second a long way from the hole, while his opponent hit a wedge to 15 feet. From the fringe, Moore chose to pitch the ball with his third but hit a dreadful shot and was still further away in three than McIlroy was in two but, remarkably, he holed it for another par. But this time McIlroy was not be denied and holed the putt for a winning birdie.
Paul Casey, with two runners-up places in the playoffs, closed the week with a 64. He finished nine under, in fourth place on his own.
Porsche European Open
Meanwhile in Europe, it was another week, another weather-affected tournament and another fabulous climax, this time at the Porsche European Open at Bad Griesbach in Germany. Frenchman Alexander Levy began the day with a five-shot lead and appeared to be cruising to victory in an event reduced to 54 holes through a combination of fog and rain.
Levy played well enough during the final round, but England's Ross Fisher played even better and the two men ended the day in a playoff after finishing tied for the lead on 19 under par.
They headed back to the 18th and Fisher's tee shot found a dreadful lie in the right-hand rough, with Levy safely down the middle. With a lake in front of the green, Fisher had to lay up. Levy, who had made a mess of the hole in regulation play, hit his approach to the heart of the green, meaning that Fisher had to get up and down in two to have any chance of continuing the playoff and the 35-year-old, looking for his sixth win, duly struck the ball to three feet. Two pars and they were back to the tee.
This time both players found the green in two. Fisher's putt from 40 feet narrowly missed but Levy stepped up to his 25-footer and holed it for a memorable win, which he celebrated by running off the green into the arms of fellow French golfer Gregory Havret.
Earlier, at the 16th hole, Levy took a three wood from the tee for safety. He was three ahead of Fisher at the time, but carved his drive to the right, narrowly avoiding a water hazard. Levy was only able to get his ball to the font of the green and then left himself a six-footer for par. Before that, however, playing partner Fisher rolled in a 20-foot putt for birdie to move to 19 under par. And when Levy missed his putt, the gap was down to one.
The third member of the group was Michael Jonzon, of Sweden. He had to ask the sponsors for an invitation to play and rewarded them with an extraordinary performance. He birdied the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes to move to 17 under.
Fisher's golf was extraordinary. The winner of this event in 2008, he birdied the first,third, eighth and ninth to reach the turn in 31. Levy birdied the second, third and eighth holes, but dropped shots at the first, fourth and fifth and was only one ahead of Levy after the front nine. But he bounced back with birdies at the 10th, 12th, 14th and 15th, while Fisher birdied the 15th and 16th.
So the leaders came to the par-three 17th with everything still to play for and for Levy, who has struggled after a couple of stellar years on the European Tour, the pressure was really on. He could realistically have expected to have been a member of Darren Clarke's Ryder Cup team, but simply hasn't played well enough. You would never have known it though from the shot he hit at the 17th, with the ball finishing no more than eight feet from the hole and well inside Fisher. Jonzon, looking for his fifth birdie on the trot, matched Levy's shot.
Fisher made a valiant effort to birdie the 17th, his putt finishing one inch short of the hole. And he got a huge let-off when Levy missed his birdie putt. Jonzon also failed to convert. So they went to the 18th, a 468-yard par four that is one of the most difficult on tour, with Levy in the lead on 20 under, Fisher on 19 under and Jonzon on 17 under. Levy and Fisher both found the fairway, while Johnson's drive ended in thick rough on the right.
Needing a good, straight approach, Levy pulled his second shot long and left and into the crowd. The door had been opened for Fisher and he responded with a magnificent shot to 15 feet. Levy found his ball next to a statue in the middle of an ornamental garden and was very fortunate to be given a free drop. His chances of getting away with a par seemed slim in the extreme given that he had to cross a concrete path, avoid an overhanging tree branch and clear the rough short of a green that sloped away from him towards water beyond the putting surface. It was no surprise that Levy came up short with his third.
Unless Levy chipped in for a most unlikely par, Fisher was going to have a putt to win. The Frenchman chose to putt and ran the ball five feet beyond the hole. Could Fisher make his birdie putt for a round of 63? The ball appeared to be destined for the hole but somehow stayed out and now Levy had to make his putt to force a playoff. To his credit, he forced the ball into the hole.
Jonzon dropped a shot to finish in a share of third place with Robert Karlsson of Sweden.
Afterwards, Levy said: “It’s unbelievable. I saw the line of the putt and I told my caddie that I thought I was going to make it. It’s difficult to compare this victory with others, but I definitely feel very relieved because it looked like I had lost my chance. It’s so good to have this winning feeling again after two years, it’s very nice.
“I holed a nice putt for bogey to make the playoff. It was a tough moment, I didn’t hit a good second shot but it was my only bad shot on the last nine holes, so I just kept my mind focused on making the bogey to get into the playoff. It was tough to try to hold onto a lead. I didn’t play well on the front nine. I was thinking about the score and not on my own game. But I started to play really well on the back nine.”
Martin Kaymer was one of two Ryder Cup players in the field, and the last thing he required was a delayed finish before heading off to Minnesota to join his Ryder Cup teammates. He was hugely relieved when the tournament organisers announced that the event would be restricted to 54 holes. It also meant he could climb on board the plane feeling fairly refreshed. On top of that, for the second successive week, Kaymer played pretty well, without ever threatening to win. Rounds of 67, 64 and 68 saw him finish on 14 under par and indicate that his game is in good shape ahead of Europe's attempt to win for the fourth successive time. Another German, Dorian Flitsch, holed a huge birdie on the final green to finish one behind Kaymer.
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