After Rory McIlroy holed out his winning putt on the final hole at The Players Championship, there was no exuberant celebration. The only thing fans saw on the 18th green from the champion was a big exhale and a content smile. McIlroy looked far more relieved, rather than elated, in his moment of triumph. That should terrify the rest of the PGA Tour.
Throughout the entirety of the final round, McIlroy had to contend with a host of competitors all congregated near the top of the leaderboard. 48-year-old Jim Furyk, Eddie Pepperell, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, and Jhonattan Vegas all had a chance to win late on Sunday, but the Northern Irishman managed to break free from the pack with the help of a back-nine burst of brilliance.
After birdieing the ninth hole to turn in one-over 37, McIlroy picked up birdies on the 11th, 12th, 15th, and 16th holes to seize the lead at 17-under par. Ahead of him, Jim Furyk had birdied the final hole and was sitting in the clubhouse after posting 16-under. The only two challengers behind McIlroy were Rahm and Fleetwood, who both hit multiple shots into the water hazard down the stretch, dooming their chances. This gave McIlroy the chance to control his destiny on the last two holes at TPC Sawgrass, which happen to be two of the most intimidating holes in all of tournament golf.
Stepping up quickly to the island-green 17th, McIlroy took only a single practice swing before hitting a three-quarter 9-iron 30 feet from the pin. After a nice two-putt, McIlroy needed a just a par on the 18th hole to win the tournament. His tee shot found the center of the fairway, and his approach shot flew just over the flag and finished less than 15 feet from the hole. Two putts later and McIlroy had secured his 15th PGA Tour title.
McIlroy spoke after the round about the adversity he faced throughout the day, “I needed to show a lot of character out there. I think all the experiences I've had over the last few weeks in terms of trying to win and not getting over the line definitely helped me today. I think the toughest part is seeing yourself up there, whatever score you're on, and seeing 10 or 11 guys with a chance. There's been a few times where I've been in positions like that, and I've taken the tournament by the scruff of the neck.”
Throughout the four days of the tournament, McIlroy’s calm demeanor never wavered, even after getting off to poor starts on Saturday and Sunday. He spoke to the media after his victory about his mental toughness and even admitted that he had recently read several self-help books “It hasn't been preached to me. It's something where it's been a journey for myself, and I've figured it out myself. But I've definitely had some people point me in the right direction.”
With The Masters approaching, McIlroy’s victory is obviously a great indicator that he will be one of the primary contenders for the year’s first major championship. In fact, one betting website, vegasinsider.com, has McIlroy as the favorite to win The Masters, placing his odds at 15/2. As golf fans know, few players can match a red-hot Rory McIlroy. Now that he has picked up a great deal momentum early in the year, it will be exciting to see if the rest of the PGA Tour can prevent another season of McIlroy dominance.