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McIlroy Stages Big Finish to Land Players Championship

By: | Mon 18 Mar 2019 | Comments

HE MAY not do it the easy way but Rory McIlroy certainly knows how to keep the crowds on the edge of their seats for 72 holes, and he did so once again as he won the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass after shooting a final round of 70 on one of the most treacherous golf courses on the PGA Tour. It was his first victory since he claimed last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. He has had several opportunities to win again in 2019 but has been unable to close the deal, and it looked like the same thing was going top happen again at what is billed as golf’s ‘fifth major’ when he dropped two shots early on.

In the end, McIlroy won without even being at his best. But he won’t be interested in that as he picked up 600 FedEx Cup points and a cheque for the small matter of $2.25m as he eased past veteran Jim Furyk.

On a day when the lead changed hands several times, for a while it seemed that 48-year-old Furyk was going to pull off the upset of the season to date as he shot a final round of 67 that was capped by a magnificent shot to the final green that landed three feet from the hole. He duly tapped it in, took the lead and then headed off to the clubhouse to see if anybody could catch him.

McIlroy, one of eight players to have at least a share of the lead in the final round, recorded a bogey on the 14th to fall behind and was in trouble with a tee shot that found a bunker right of the fairway at the 15th. He was blocked out but produced arguably the shot of the day, leaving his ball 15 feet from the hole to set up a birdie. And he wasn’t finished yet. The Northern Irishman struck a massive drive at the par-five 16th, leaving himself just a nine iron for his second shot. He duly two-putted for another birdie to move into the lead.

But he still had to negotiate the notorious par-three 17th, with its island green - a hole at which many had come to grief during the week, including Tiger Woods, who needed seven shots to play it on Friday. He found the green and walked off with a par before splitting the 18th fairway, finding the green with his second and taking two putts for a routine par. It was good enough for a 16-under-par total of 272, giving him his first victory in the tournament at his 10th attempt.

"This is probably the deepest field of the year, with so much on the line," McIlroy, 29, said. "I'm thankful it was my turn this week."

Furyk didn't even know he was in field until last week. The veteran former US Open champion started the back nine with two birdies to get in the mix, with his only blemish coming at the 15th, where he missed a three-foot putt for par. Unsurprisingly, he was thrilled with his play. "A shot here, a shot there, maybe could have been a little different," Furyk said. "But ultimately, left it all out there. It was also nice to get in contention, to get under the heat, to have to hit shots under a lot of pressure, and then to respond well to that and hit some good golf shots. It'll be a confidence boost going forward."

Yet again, it was a great week for Europe. Francesco Molinari won at Bay Hill, McIlroy wins here, and there were plenty of other terrific performances from players from this side of the Atlantic, most notably Eddie Pepperell. Playing in his first Players, he recorded four birdies in five holes to briefly share the lead, the highlight being a 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th that sent the galleries wild. One group later, Jhonattan Vegas holed a putt from the bottom left to the top right pin position, just under 70 feet, the longest putt made on the Island Green since the PGA Tour had lasers to measure them. That gave him a share of the lead, too.

"Magic," Vegas said. "If I tried it a thousand times I wouldn't even come close to making it, but I'm pretty happy that it happened today."

Both shot 66 and tied for third.

Third-round leader Jon Rahm and England’s Tommy Fleetwood both struggled early on and neither was able to find any momentum. Rahm, who had a one-shot lead, started with three bogeys in four holes. Battling with his game, he was tied for the when he came to the par-five 11th and put his drive into a bunker, 220 yards from the green. Blocked out by trees, he took the fateful decision to go for the green, but found water, dropped a shot and his chance had gone. He also found the water on the 17th and closed with a 76 and tied for 12th.

Fleetwood opened with a three-putt bogey and made pars until hitting into the water on the 11th for bogey. His highlight came at the par-five 16th, where he made an eagle to reignite his chances, but he then came up short of the island on the 17th. He shot 73 and tied for fifth with Brandt Snedeker (69) and Dustin Johnson (69). Fleetwood will be growing increasingly frustrated at his inability to string four good rounds together - he keeps playing himself into winning positions but has thus far been unable to secure the win on the PGA Tour that he desperately craves.

As for McIlroy, he also started poorly on his way to his 15th PGA Tour success. He found the water at the fourth and recorded a double bogey but then demonstrated why he has finished no worse than sixth in any tournament this year.

"I almost liked today because it was tough," McIlroy said. "I knew guys weren't going to get away from us. I knew there was some chances coming up. I stayed patient. Anytime I looked at a leaderboard, I was pleasantly surprised because I hadn't fallen two, three, four shots behind."

It sets him up perfectly for The Masters at Augusta next month when he will once again attempt to land the one major title to have eluded him.

European Tour

YOU probably won’t have heard of Guido Migliozzi, but you should make a note of the name after the young Italian held his nerve to claim his maiden European Tour title at the Kenya Open. The Qualifying School graduate was playing just his 14th European Tour event at Karen Country Club and didn’t have so much as a top-10 finish to his name. However, he does have three wins on the Alps Tour (where England’s Matt Wallace made his name) and the 22-year-old drew on those experiences to card a 69 and get to 16 under, one shot clear of playing partner Adri Arnaus and South Africans Louis de Jager and Justin Harding.

Arnaus and Migliozzi put on a wonderful display in the penultimate group on day three and they went head to head again in the final round, with De Jager, Harding, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Kalle Samooja all also sharing the lead during the course of a thrilling final day.

But it was the 22-year-old who prevailed, getting his nose in front at the 12th and parring his last six holes under incredible pressure to take the title. Bhullar finished at 14 under, a shot clear of Samooja and Frenchman Romain Langasque.

Migliozzi follows in the footsteps of major champions Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam and Trevor Immelman in winning this event on its debut on the European Tour. And he was thrilled to bits with his achievement. "I like this moment," he said. "I like the pressure, it's like a drug. I love pressure, I love playing with a lot of people looking at me and a lot of cameras.

"There was a lot of pressure on the  course. After the birdie at the 12th I was leading but it was tough. I just kept patient towards the end, that was it. I enjoyed the last two days very much. The pressure was a lot and I'm happy about how I'm playing under pressure, also with my putting game that I worked a lot on."

Arnaus bogeyed the second and then suffered a slice of dreadful luck at the third when his ball hit the flag and shot off the green, costing him another dropped shot off the green, leaving fellow overnight leader Migliozzi two ahead.

The leader failed to get up and down from the back of the fourth and a glorious Arnaus approach to the fifth put him into a four-way tie for the lead. De Jager took advantage of the par five sixth - adding to an earlier bogey on the second and brilliant birdie from the trees on the fifth - to hit the front on his own but Arnaus and Migliozzi both did the same. And so it went on.

Migliozzi then suffered some awful luck at the ninth, where he found his ball nestling up against a tree trunk, but he played the ball against the tree and gave himself a chance of an up and down. He could not make his five foot par putt and there was a four-way tie for the lead, with Finn Samooja also at 14 under after birdies on the second, sixth and ninth and a bogey on the fourth.

A 10-foot putt on the tenth put Migliozzi back ahead but De Jager and Arnaus both capitalised on the par five 11th to make it a share once again. Migliozzi then found the fringe with his second on the par five next, getting down in two for the crucial birdie. Arnaus bogeyed the 12th but birdied the 15th to keep it alive down the last, with Migliozzi hitting the flag with his second on the 18th to leave two putts for victory.

Last week's winner Harding started with eight pars but got up and down from the front of the ninth and the back of the 11th for birdies.

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