Rory McIlroy stood over a 12-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole of the Australian Open. You could feel the tension in the air (or even through the TV and the announcers’ voices) — Adam Scott had just bogeyed to drop to 17-under for the tournament and opened the door for McIlroy, who trailed by a shot heading into the final hole, to win in regulation, or at worst, likely, force a playoff.
McIlroy, who putted beautifully on Sunday, stroked the putt and there was never a doubt it was going in the hole, as the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland raised his arms in celebration, along with a deep sigh of relief. After all, it hadn’t been the smoothest time for Rory on- and- off- the course in 2013. But this win has salvaged an otherwise somewhat forgettable year.
“I didn’t think it was going to unfold the way it did, said McIlroy, who shot a final round 66 to overcome a four-shot deficit. “It’s hard not to feel some guilt in the way I won it. Having a one-shot lead going into the last having it taken away from you right at the very end, it’s tough.”
Rory, who had been embroiled in various controversial situations throughout the year, finally claimed his first title of the year after trailing Scott by four shots at the start of the day. Scott led for the vast majority of the tournament — this was his to win. Or lose.
Not only did Scott let the tournament slip away from his fingers, he also failed to complete the “Scotty Slam.” In other words, Scott had won the Australian Masters and the Australian PGA, and the team title for Australia in the World Cup of Golf all in the past month, not to mention the Masters in April. Scott was trying to match Robert Allenby’s achievement in 2005 when the fellow Aussie won the Australian Masters, PGA and Open all in succession. I guess it almost would have been too good to be true.
‘‘I’m disappointed to make an error at the last and open the door for Rory,’’ Scott said afterwards, via the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘‘I was kind of trying to keep it closed all day the best I could. Nothing was going my way on the greens today.
‘‘I could have put this thing away I think early on if the putter was behaving how it should have, like it did the rest of the week, but I just misjudged into the last and a player as good as Rory is going to take that opportunity.
‘‘It’s just the way golf is. I’m gutted. I felt like I never had a better chance to win the Aussie Open.’’
It’s true — Scott couldn’t buy a putt all day, while Rory seemed to make almost every important putt and par saves to stay just one back of Scott before the key 7th hole.
McIlroy birdied the 5th to gain some momentum and then he hit a beautiful second shot on the par-5 7th before rolling in a 12-footer for eagle, while Scott parred. Rory closed the gap to just one shot before he tied Scott momentarily with a birdie on the 8th, but Scott responded with a birdie of his own on the 9th to regain the one-stroke advantage heading into the back nine.
It remained that way until the final hole. Both players hit iron off the 18th tee and their balls were almost next to each other in the fairway. (I actually left the room at this point to go to bed because I figured Scott wasn’t going to bogey from the middle of the fairway, but, of course, I should have known better — don’t worry, I got back up and turned on the TV when they were on the green afters seeing frantic tweets from my Aussie colleagues.)
Scott’s approach landed in front of the pin, but hard and an unlucky bounce caused it to fly through the green, leaving him with a tough up-and-down. Uh-oh. There was that opening for Rory, who knocked his shot to 12 feet. And the rest was history.
Rory, of course, was the ever-gracious winner.
“I wanted to get a win by the end of the season and finally I’ve been able to get one,” said McIlroy. “But more satisfying is being able to take on one of the best players in the world down the stretch and to come out on top.
“I feel a bit sorry that I was the one to ruin the Triple Crown for him. But I’m very happy. Adam is a credit to the game and a credit to this country.”
Pure class — both Rory and Adam.
By the way, in case anyone was still wondering, Rory and his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki have not broken up (or they’re back together). In his post-win interview, McIlroy said he’d call Caroline *before* his parents.
ICYMI: Here’s my interview from last week with McIlroy, talking equipment and the state of his game… I’ll have more recent videos with Rory that I’ll be posting later. Stay tuned!