Ryder Cup: Rory McIlroy lights up Day One

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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The smiling, bouncing, ebullient Rory McIlroy has gone missing this year.

The brooding started when he got blown away by Patrick Reed at the Masters. It continued with forgettable final rounds at Carnoustie, Firestone and Aronimink. And it rolled right into the Tour Championship, where on Sunday, with a face-to-face showdown against Tiger Woods, he offered little resistance and limped home with a 74.

That months-long malaise seemed to bleed into the first session of this Ryder Cup, where on Friday morning McIlroy played arguably his worst 16 holes of the year. Needing to show rookie Thorbjorn Olesen the ropes, instead it was McIlroy who appeared out of his depth. Even with three par 5s, he couldn’t muster a single birdie, a performance so bleak that it led to an unthinkable question:

Do you possibly bench Rory on Friday afternoon?

The eventual answer was no, but only because European captain Thomas Bjorn had his Friday lineup established and wasn’t going to be swayed by either McIlroy’s putrid play or the team’s 3-1 deficit.

“I never have any doubt in Rory McIlroy, because if I start doubting him, then I probably shouldn’t be doing this job,” Bjorn said. “I’m not in any way, shape or form qualified to tell Rory McIlroy how to play golf, but I’m qualified to lead him in a direction with the people he’s surrounded himself with this week to get good things out of him.”

And so, teaming in afternoon foursomes with Ian Poulter, McIlroy soon played more like himself. He drove the green and holed the crucial birdie putt on the sixth hole to finally get on the board, then helped Poulter win six more holes to dominate Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, 4 and 2, during a windy afternoon at Le Golf National.

“Great players, when they don’t perform to the standards that they want to, they have an ability to just go and put it right,” Bjorn said. “And he did that this afternoon.”

Indeed, McIlroy was part of a remarkable European resurgence, as the home team swept a session for the first time since 1989 to build a 5-3 advantage after Day 1.

Standing on the 16th green, McIlroy was downright giddy afterward.

“A big thing for us is resilience and persistence – persist, persist, persist until it turns around for you,” McIlroy said. “It was just what we needed after this morning.”

And it was just what he needed, too.

After the disastrous start, McIlroy easily could have been sent to the bench, putting even more negative thoughts into what has been a cluttered mind. His Sunday retreats suggest a vulnerability that didn’t exist when he was running away with majors and the clearest threat to dominate the sport, but Bjorn’s faith has never wavered.

Though McIlroy wasn’t at his best Friday afternoon, he finally seemed to play with the childlike joy that has been sorely lacking. His teammates noticed.

“I just think getting out on the golf course to get straight back at it was good for him,” Poulter said, “and it was inspiring for me, too.”

McIlroy’s highlight of the day came on the tricky 13th, after Poulter left him in an awkward spot off the tee, his ball coming to rest on a grassy side slope in the hazard near the pond. To even have a swing, McIlroy needed to basically squat down to the ball. He chased after it and hoisted the ball out of the juicy rough, then backpedaled up the hill to track its flight. Somehow, his shot landed on the front edge and ran out 20 feet past the hole. He shrugged sheepishly at Poulter.

“I had full faith in Rors to put it somewhere on the green,” Poulter said, smiling. “Maybe 60 feet away.”

Now facing an unlikely putt to win the hole and go 3 up, the Englishman buried it, screamed, “Come on!” and pounded his chest.

As McIlroy glided toward the 14th with his familiar strut, about two dozen delirious fans danced and sang, “La, la-la-la-la, Europe’s a fighter!”

And so, too, is McIlroy.

On the final few holes, with the result no longer in doubt, he played to the crowd, raising his wedge when they serenaded him and imploring them to make even more noise.

For one afternoon, at least, he looked the happiest he’d been in months.

There’s no better sight for Team Europe.

Rory McIlroy overcomes six-stroke deficit, claims FedExCup title and $18 million

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Rory McIlroy claimed his third FedExCup title by capturing the Tour Championship on Sunday. McIlroy overcame a six-stroke final-round deficit to Scottie Scheffler to claim the $18-million bonus.

Scheffler began the final stanza with a heavy advantage, thanks to a fantastic finish to the third round Sunday morning.

After play was suspended Saturday evening because of an inclement weather threat, the field returned to East Lake at 9:45 a.m. to wrap Round 3. Scheffler and Xander Schauffele, in the final group and separated by one shot, were in the 13th fairway when play resumed. Scheffler played his final six holes in 4 under to reach 23 under par. Schauffele played them in 1 over to drop to 17 under.

McIlroy wrapped up a third-round 63 to also reach 17 under and grab a spot in the final-round final twosome.

Both he and Scheffler bogeyed the first hole, but while Scheffler continued to slip, McIlroy steadily rose. The Northern Irishman made four birdies over the remainder of his opening nine to turn in 3-under 32. Scheffler, meanwhile, posted a 37. The difference was one.

Following a McIlroy birdie at the 12th, they were knotted.

Im was also in contention through much of the final round. He got within a shot of the lead before a double bogey at the par-4 14th.  Im made a couple of late birdies to again climb within one of the lead, but he was unable to birdie the par-5 18th, settling for a 66 and a 20-under finish.

Im, ultimately, was chasing McIlroy. After McIlroy bogeyed the 14th to drop one back of Scheffler, he rolled in a 31-foot birdie at the par-3 15th to draw even at 21 under. McIlroy then scrambled for par at the 16th, while Scheffler made bogey.

With two holes to play, McIlroy led by one.

Scheffler had a chance to regain a share of the lead at the par-4 17th, but after sticking his approach shot to 12 feet, he badly shoved the birdie effort and made par. With one hole to play – and an $11.5 million difference between first and second place – McIlroy maintained the slight edge.

Both players hit the fairway at the 18th, Scheffler driving it 334 yards and McIlroy 342. Hitting first, Scheffler found a bunker short and right of the green. McIlroy followed by hooking his second from 228 yards off the left grandstands.

Again playing first, Scheffler blasted his bunker shot over the green. McIlroy was able to get relief from the grandstand and chipped to 20 feet. After Scheffler was unable to chip in for birdie, McIlroy just needed to two-putt for par to secure victory. He did that easily. Scheffler settled for par and a T-2 alongside Im.

Cameron Smith storms past Rory McIlroy to win 150th Open at St. Andrews

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Cameron Smith stole the claret jug from Rory McIlroy’s grasp, carding six birdies on the final nine Sunday at St. Andrews and capping a 64-64 weekend to win the 150th Open Championship by a shot. Here’s everything you need to know:

Leaderboard: Cameron Smith (-20), Cameron Young (-19), Rory McIlroy (-18), Viktor Hovland (-14), Tommy Fleetwood (-14)

How it happened: Prior to Sunday’s final round, Tiger Woods sent NBC on-course reporter John Wood a text putting himself in the shoes of the two co-leaders, McIlroy and Hovland, who were four shots clear of the nearest chasers, which included Smith. It read: “If I shot 19 under par, which would tie the lowest score in relation to par in all four majors, I would win. How do I go about doing that? No bunkers, no three-putts, take care of the drivable par 4s and take care of the par 5s. Maybe sneak in one or two more [birdies]. Lo and behold, a score around 68 without doing anything special.”

McIlroy tried to follow that game plan. He didn’t find a bunker, nor did he three-putt. And for good measure, he didn’t miss a green in regulation. Unfortunately, for McIlroy, he also couldn’t buy a birdie, managing only two, closing in 2-under 70 and getting passed by the young Aussie, who did something special.

While Hovland fell off the pace, McIlroy appeared to be doing just enough to win despite just two birdies in his first 10 holes. But by that time, Smith had begun a streak of five straight birdies – from 5, 16, 11, 18 and 5 feet  at Nos. 10-14 – to overtake McIlroy and move to 19 under. Smith added a birdie at the last with a closing 8-under 64, but he actually won this tournament a hole earlier, at the Road Hole, where he piped a drive down the fairway only to hook one left and well short of the green. With the infamous Road Hole Bunker between he and the hole, Smith opted to putt around the trap. He then sunk the clutch 10-footer for par to remain a shot clear of McIlroy, who needed to chip in for eagle at the last but ran it well past and ended up third, two back and shot behind Young, who eagled No. 18 to earn the runner-up finish.

What it means: Coming into this 150th Open, McIlroy spoke of the significance of winning a claret jug at St. Andrews’ prized Old Course. He called the achievement the “holy grail” of professional golf, so though McIlroy already possessed one Open title, in 2014 at Royal Liverpool, he wanted this one badly. After all, it had been eight years since McIlroy had won a major of any kind. Instead, it was Smith, with just one top-20 in four previous Open starts, knocking off his first major. In winning, the 28-year-old Smith became the first Australian to win The Open in 29 years, since Greg Norman beat Nick Faldo in 1993 at Royal St. George’s.

Round of the day: While McIlroy struck 36 putts on Sunday, Smith had just 29, and that performance with the flatstick helped him card the low final round by a shot over several players, including Young.

Biggest disappointment: In what was supposed to be essentially a match-play battle between he and McIlroy, Hovland went birdie-less for 11 holes and never factored down the stretch.