Rory McIlroy became the third youngest player in the modern era to reach four career major titles at the 96th PGA Championship. He was able to overcome a three-shot deficit early in the round with a sizzling back nine 32 to defeat Phil Mickelson by one stroke.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland began the final round with a one stroke lead over Bernd Wiesberger of Austria. Wiesberger faded on the front nine, and so did McIlroy. At the end of seven holes, Rickie Fowler held the lead at 14-under with Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson at 13-under, and Rory at 12-under par.
However, everything changed on the back nine.
Once Fowler, Mickelson, and Stenson got to 15-under, Rory turned it up a notch with an eagle on the 590-yard par-5 10th to get to 14-under.
McIlroy said, “On 10, it came out a little low and left on me. Got a nice bit of run on to the green and that was the turning point in the whole tournament for me. I struggled on the front nine, and then to get myself within one of the guys in front, Rickie and Phil, I felt like I had a really good chance then.”
Rory proceeded to hit excellent irons shots on 11 and 12, but missed the birdie putts to join the leaders.
Stenson birdied the 13th to get to 15-under, but 3-putted the 14th to drop a shot, and he would par out to finish in a tie for third place with Fowler at 14-under.
McIlroy hit another great approach on 13, and rolled in the 8-footer for birdie to tie Fowler and Mickelson at 15-under. His emphatic fist pump signaled he was there to stay.
Rickie and Phil’s hopes began slipping away on consecutive holes. First, it was Rickie who bogeyed the 217-yard par-3 14th to go to 14-under. Next, it was Phil who bogeyed the 508-yard par-4 16th after nearly holing his chip shot.
Rory continued to make stress free pars until he came to the 17th hole. After driving it into the right fairway bunker, he hit a 9-iron to 12-feet. The birdie moved Rory to 16-under, and gave him a two stroke cushion over Fowler, Mickelson, and Stenson heading to the final hole.
With darkness becoming a huge factor on the 18th. Rory’s group was able to hit their tee shots as Rickie and Phil walked to their tee balls. It was a hectic finish, and Rory’s drive ended up 2-feet from the hazard line to the right of the fairway.
Rory was quick to praise Fowler and Mickelson after the round. “It was a classy move for those guys to let us come up because they didn’t need to. They could have let us just stand there and wait in darkness and make it a little bit more difficult. True sportsmanship. They called us up, and it was a classy move.”
Because he was able to hit his drive, Rory had a front row seat to his closest challengers’ approach shots on 18, which left them with difficult eagle opportunities. However, Phil the thrill almost came through with an eagle chip that veered off at the end.
With four majors to his name, Rory is approaching the all-time greats. “I try and put all this talk aside every time it comes up, but Tiger and Jack are two of the most successful players in our sport of all time. I’m on a nice track at the minute and I’m on a nice path. I’ve still got a long way to go, but to be in their company at this age is very special.”
–Bernie D’Amato (@bdamato711)