Rory McIlroy Had Doubts About System, but Conquers It
The pride of Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy, said that he would let us know how he felt about the Tour Championship scoring system on Monday. Well, it’s Monday, and I’m having trouble believing that Rory will be too unhappy about the way things turned out. On a third and fourth day that brought danger to the course in the form of lightning strikes, sending six people to the hospital, the good kind of lightning struck the Irishman. He held on for the win, despite a few holes worth of what many see as an inability to “close.”
The four-stroke victory edged out Brooks Koepka, an extraordinarily consistent star with a stellar majors record. It was Koepka who voiced the greatest truth of the day – “I can’t always bring it,” a version of the modern cliche, “Even Ruth didn’t hit ’em all out of the park.” The one who almost caught Rory was Xander Schauffele, a rapidly improving force in the business.
The argument has already begun over Player of the Year honors between McIlroy and Koepka, and all manner of statistical categories have been dragged up. They go back decades to top five and top ten finishes by Jack Nicklaus and others. They compare normal tournament play, strokes gained, majors, and other vague facts I pay no attention to unless someone puts them right before my eyes. One suggests that even though the Tour Champion represented a field of marquee players, it was still a field of only 30. Wait a minute, wasn’t anyone watching as every player on tour tried their best to get into that tournament? Are we going to give the Tour Championship its due, along with the 15 million dollar first-place check, or should we just call it another tournament and let it go at that?
What I noticed in my own reactions to the final nine were telling. Ceding that Rory McIlroy is a mega-talent in search of more evidence to support that fact, and despite the fact that I outright like him as a personality. I didn’t trust him, not one bit. I was surprised that Xander Schauffele didn’t catch him, and believed that the string of consecutive bogeys was evidence of an impending and grand choke. Rory proved me wrong by regrouping when he needed it most, but through those few bad holes, he appeared to be hanging on by the fingernails.
Perhaps it was mere illusion, but I felt as though McIlroy was suddenly playing too fast. Many people respond to long-term pressure by quickening their pace, thinking to outrun the potential collapse, or at least to put it out of their minds. Some actually say to themselves, “This is the point where I always blow it and give it away,” but I give Rory Mcilroy a lot more credit than that. He is not such a weak-minded competitor. At any rate, the illusion of speed may be due to television coverage and fewer players in each group, darting back and forth from hole to hole. It always appeared as though McIlroy was prepared to hit seconds after his last shot.
The eventual champion’s strong finish refuted my doubts and fears with confidence. Whether one argues that McIlroy overcame the PGA scoring structure or the quality of his body of work throughout the season is for the moment, a moot point. The win was a nifty trick following Justin Thomas and his miraculous week at the BMW, the seeming unflappability of Xander Schauffele, and the ever-present danger that is Brooks Koepka. Coming up 18 with a lead and 15 million at stake, one is brutally alone. I will be interested to hear McIlroy’s side of the story, and I will be more likely to trust his mettle next time.