RORY McIlroy recovered from a late speed wobble and answered the $64 million question when he held off a final round challenge from PGA champion Justin Thomas to hold onto the RBC Canadian Open and jump into the US Open with a spring in his step.
without a win for eight months, the Co Down man (33) claimed his 21st PGA Tour victory with his in-demand wedge game key to everything, as he finished with an eight-under 62 to win by two shots from Tony Finau and by four of Thomas at 19 under par.
“This is a day I will remember for a long time. It’s my 21st win on the PGA tour, one more than anyone else,” said McIlroy in what seemed a thinly veiled reference to LIV Golf’s Greg Norman.
“That gave me a little extra boost today and I’m glad I made it happen.”
“It’s incredible to play with Tony and JT today, two of the best players in the world and just to play like we did,” he added.
“I think the worst score in the group was six under par.”
On a day when Justin Rose needed three pairs for a 59 and bogey-par-bogey finished for a 60 and fourth at 14-under, Shane Lowry made an eagle and five birdies in a 66 to tie for 10th at nine -under.
But the real fireworks came from McIlroy, Thomas and Finau, who in the latter group put on a show that poked fun at the previous three days’ tacky LIV Golf fare, as PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was quick to point out in a CBS interview. .
Monahan defended his decision to suspend 17 players for playing it in the Centurion Club with no releases, and was asked why players can’t play both tours.
“Why do they need us so badly? Because those players have chosen to sign multi-year lucrative contracts to play against the same players over and over in a series of exhibition games,” Monahan said.
“You’re looking at that versus what we’re seeing here today, and that’s why they need us so much. You have real, pure competition. The best players in the world are here at the RBC Canadian Open, with millions of fans watching, and in this game it’s real and pure competition that creates the profile in the presence of the world’s best players.”
Tied for the night lead with Finau, McIlroy birdied eight of his first 12 holes.
He set the tone by raming into a 25-footer attack on the first, fired a 200-yard approach to four feet on the fourth, hit a pair on the sixth, and fired a wedge to four feet on the seventh to make two away from Finau and Wyndham Clark and three for Thomas.
He added another birdie in the ninth to lead Thomas by two, but while the Kentucky man birdied the 10th and 11th for a run of six birdies in a row, McIlroy extended his lead to three by following birdies on the 10th and 11th with a 40 footer for his fourth in a row on the 12th before staggering across the piece.
After missing a three and a half footer for par on the 13th, he had to go up and down from 106 yards on the 14th to maintain one lead, but then made a bogey on the 16th to enable Thomas to equalize .
However, it all changed on the 17th, when Thomas bogeyed after a wild drive. McIlroy wedged to 30 inches to go two clear.
Another wedge to six feet on the 18th birdied another for a $1,566,000 win, taking his career profit to $64 million.
“I think after Covid I just had to reset,” finished McIlroy, who moves up five places to third in the world.
“I re-dedicated myself to the game a little bit and realized what made me happy and this makes me happy.
“So I just put the work in. I have a great team around me and they are 100% behind me and make it easier for me to just go and do things like I did today.
“It feels great. I knew I had to go there today and play really well. You have JT and Tony, two of the best players in the world next to me and like the wind the past few days the golf course was obviously playing a lot easier than I did the first two days.
“So I knew that five, six, seven would be below the score I needed to get the job done. It’s great to be in the winning circle again in front of all those people and all those crowds and it was a really cool day. “
As for Monahan, he was predictably optimistic about the future of the PGA Tour and had no remorse for the suspension of 17 players last week.
“It was an unfortunate week created by some unfortunate decisions, with players choosing to break our tournament rules,” Monahan said.
“My job is to protect, defend and celebrate our loyal PGA Tour members, our partners and our fans. And that’s exactly what I did. And I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone.”
More to follow…