By Anthony L. Cuaycong
Rory McIlroy was a dejected runner-up at the Tour Championship 11 months ago. Paired with Tiger Woods in the final round, he didn’t quite have his A-game to keep up with the eventual champion. In fact, he wound up being a spectator to one of the most spectacular finishes in the sport — with the best player of his generation being embraced by an extremely engaging crowd of thousands that literally went inside the ropes to celebrate the outcome. And even as he joined teeming fans in congratulating the comebacking titleholder, he knew he let a grand opportunity slip away.
The good news was that McIlroy used the experience to jump-start his next campaign. He would go on to make the Top 10 in 14 of 19 events, including victories at The Players Championship and the RBC Canadian Open, and in the process join Woods and all-time great Jack Nicklaus as the only club wielders to claim four majors and 15 tour wins in history. Which was all well and good, his uneven performances in Grand Slam stops notwithstanding. Given his experience at East Lake last year, just about the only thing left for him was to end the season with flourish.
Creditably, McIlroy did just that, parlaying his handicapped start into a command performance that left no question as to who truly ruled the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Owing to reconfigured rules that spotted players with strokes depending on seeding following the BMW Championship, he stood at third, five back of provisional leader Justin Thomas, before the first round even began. It didn’t matter, though; by the time he put the final touches on a sterling showing that had him posting under-par scores in each of the four rounds (a feat no one else managed), he was four shots clear of his nearest pursuer. And, this time, it was his masterpiece the gathered masses rejoiced in.
McIlroy was beside himself with joy in the aftermath, and with reason. He moved to World Number Two with the triumph. Moreover, the rise in rankings came with a cool $15 million for emerging at the top of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, raising his aggregate prize money for the season to $24.3 million, the highest in golf annals. “I’m going to enjoy this one tonight,” he disclosed. And, no doubt, the good vibes will spur him to remind all and sundry why he continues to be deemed among the most talented in the sport.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.