Rory McIlroy’s record third FedEx Cup is a well-deserved and fitting crown for the PGA Tour’s off-course champion

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When athletes retire after years of devotion to their craft, it’s common to see them trade in their uniforms for suits as they seek to reshape the game that once shaped them. Some players go on to become coaches and others join the media as analysts, but there are a select few who take on roles as primary decision-makers for their leagues or teams within.

In an unprecedented year in professional golf, Rory McIlroy has taken an even more unusual path. He has become the rarest of all the Titans, someone who is just as talented and influential behind the scenes as he is in front of the camera. On Sunday, perhaps the best player in the world beat as many people on the course at East Lake Golf Club as he has had off the course this year: all of them.

Overcoming a triple bogey start to the FedEx Cup Playoffs Final and what (at one point) was a 10-shot deficit to Scottie Scheffler, McIlroy won the 2022 Tour Championship, captured a record third FedEx Cup and took home home $18 million. big prize.

On Sunday, McIlroy started six times behind the Masters champion, who was attempting to become the first golfer to earn more than $30 million in a single year on the PGA Tour (event earnings plus FedEx Cup prize money) and also the first to win five times in a PGA Tour season since Justin Thomas concluded 2017 with his own FedEx Cup.

McIlroy’s momentum was immediately halted with a bogey on the first Sunday, but he covered the course for the rest of the day, playing the next 17 holes at 5-under. At one point, midway through the round, he made five birdies over a nine-hole stretch, leading to a nine-hole battle between Scheffler and McIlroy with $18 million on the table, but the key point of the entire tournament. I arrive. on holes 15 and 16.

On the 220-yard par 3 of the 15th, McIlroy safely hit an iron to the left side of the green, away from the surrounding water. He then buried that 31-foot birdie putt, a nod to what has easily been the best year of his career. One hole later, after an airmailed and spun wedge shot with a club out of a fairway bunker, McIlroy hit his shot with the club and hit a par from 8-footers that made him the first golfer to the field in jumping ahead of Scheffler to the top. from the leaderboard.

During the first 69 holes of the tournament, McIlroy was losing or tied; he suddenly found himself at the head of the last three.

Scheffler didn’t have the game we’ve seen all season, the one that will likely make him the 2022 PGA Tour Player of the Year. He shot the worst round of the day with a 73. McIlroy’s 66 followed a 63, which he completed in the wee hours. on Sunday when Round 3 concluded after being suspended due to inclement weather on Saturday night. He shot 67 matches the first two days.

It was, like most of McIlroy’s victories, a spectacle. It was also nowhere near his best performance this month.

McIlroy and Tiger Woods led a players-only meeting at the BMW Championship last week. The end result of bringing most of the world’s best golfers together in the same room, and taking ownership of the future of the PGA Tour, was Commissioner Jay Monahan’s announcement that the best players on the PGA Tour have committed to playing 13 PGA . Spin events together starting in 2023.

Rory has been adamant, both in public and in private in 2022, that LIV Golf is not good for the sport. Regardless of where he stands on that assessment, it’s undeniable that McIlroy has devoted his time, effort and energy to championing the PGA Tour as he tries to help reshape professional golf for the next 10, 20 or 50 years.

“I’ve been in the thick of things,” he said. “I guess every chance I get, I’m trying to defend what I think is the best place to play elite professional golf in the world. In a way, it’s fitting that I was able to do this today to round off a year that has been very , very challenging and different”.

A cynic might say that McIlroy has much to gain from a prosperous PGA Tour. That is absolutely true. His association with Woods at TMRW Sports, an organization that will host mock competitions in affiliation with the PGA Tour, means they will both make big money. However, it must also be recognized that Tiger and Rory (especially together) don’t necessarily need the blessing of the PGA Tour to consolidate power and wealth. TMRW could go anywhere and be successful, and the duo together could have cashed in with LIV Golf to the tune of around $1 billion.

When it comes to the sport, McIlroy is exactly who you want him to be and perhaps the person you imagine. Lovingly, he’s a golf psycho. He dives deep into Data Golf, just like you and me. He scans the LIV Golf lawsuit for humorous tidbits, just like you and me. If he wasn’t one of the top 25 golfers of all time, it’s easy to see him commenting and joking about it all, just like you and me.

There is nothing more compelling in an athlete than genuine humanity and authentic passion. I’m not saying “Santa Claus isn’t real,” but most athletes play sports because they’re good at it and get paid very well to display that talent, not because it touches their souls. And they certainly don’t care how what they do right now affects the development line of an entire sport.

McIlroy has invested that aforementioned time, effort and energy on countless fronts. He’s not the commissioner of the PGA Tour, but the number of powerful people in his orbit, and the way he can propel them toward a shared vision, is enough to convince you he’d make a great player.

This came to a head last week during the BMW Championship when a Player Advisory Council meeting (McIlroy is the chairman) was followed by the aforementioned players-only meeting led by McIlroy and Woods. Getting deeply involved in these off-course arenas, especially those as emotionally demanding as battling LIV Golf, can easily take a toll on one’s game on the course, and yet McIlroy has not only done both well, he has thrived. absolutely. Even with his mind so busy off the course during this stretch, McIlroy has played some of the best golf of his entire career.

The numbers are staggering.

  • 16 starts on the PGA Tour
  • 3 wins
  • top 10 top 10
  • The 8 best results in the four majors
  • Over $28 million won (tournament winnings, FedEx Cup, Comcast Business Top 10)
  • 2.58 strokes won since January 1, not including this week (not even Scheffler has been better)

Perhaps none of this is particularly surprising. McIlroy has always been extrinsically motivated, and an existential professional golf crisis in which the way the entire infrastructure works is up in the air certainly qualifies as extrinsically motivated. In addition, golf has become a respite.

“In all honesty, golf has been the outlet for me in the last few weeks,” he said. “I get between the ropes, no one can get to me, and it’s my escape from these other things that are going on.”

What is perhaps more surprising than McIlroy playing great golf is that someone who has generational talent in this game is also capable of projecting such a strong vision while leading the game into the future with equal parts grace and conviction. McIlroy has clearly been the right man to face this moment.

“If you believe in something, I think you have to speak up, and I strongly believe in this,” McIlroy said of the future of the PGA Tour amid the threat from LIV Golf. “I really do. I hate what it’s doing to the game of golf. I hate it. I really do… So yeah, I’m very sorry. what you’re saying is the right thing, you’re happy to risk your neck on the line.”

The great players are not so common. The same can be said for leaders who are willing to throw themselves into something they truly believe in. Someone who can do both well, especially asynchronously, represents an unusual, perhaps even curious, shortage.

The world of golf has mostly welcomed and embraced the rarest of all McIlroy characters. Someone who is dynamic and reliable enough to lead their peers as they shape the future while playing at a high enough level to continue to shape their present. Someone who is good enough to make his voice matter and bold enough to use it. Someone who may not have asked for this battle, but whose golf may have been unintentionally elevated to a spot that means he’s the only one who can fight it.

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