Best sporting moments of the year - No 8: Rory McIlroy bounces back in style at East Lake

After missing a great chance to win the Open, McIlroy chased down the World No 1 to bag an $18m pay day

Golf – Tour Championship, East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, August 28th

The par-three 15th hole at East Lake Golf Club is not for the faint-hearted. It measures 211 yards and, when Rory McIlroy stood on the tee, he was still playing catch-up on Scottie Scheffler in a quest to claim the Tour Championship – and the FedEx Cup – for a third time.

For McIlroy, who’d started the final round six strokes adrift of Masters champion Scheffler, the tee shot was just okay. The ball finished 31 feet from the flag, the sort of distance where hope plays as big a part as anything.

McIlroy and caddie Harry Diamond looked at the slopes, the nuances, and finally McIlroy stood over the ball and putted and then stood as still as a statue for starters as the ball broke to the left and then swung towards the hole. McIlroy stepped back, knowing it was tracking, and as the ball prepared to disappear, he raised his right fist to the heavens. The sound of ball hitting tin was lost as the huge gallery around the green erupted.


On the next hole, McIlroy claimed the lead for the first time and never lost it.

For a player who the previous month had lost out to Cameron Smith in the 150th Open at St Andrews, McIlroy’s win came as a form of redemption and with a hefty $18 million pay day as consolation.

“I went up against the best player in the world today and I took him down, that’s got to mean something,” said McIlroy.

The win was remarkable on many fronts. McIlroy had arrived to East Lake already playing catch-up on Scheffler in the gerrymandered starting positions and started his championship with a wild drive out of bounds on the first hole in running up a triple-bogey seven.

On the Sunday morning, he’d returned to complete his weather-affected third round and went birdie-birdie and then carried that momentum into a final round charge – 66 to Scheffler’s 73 with Sunjae Im sneaking into a share of second – to overcome the six-stroke deficit in what was the largest fightback in the Tour Championship’s history, bettering Camilo Villegas’s five-shot recovery in 2008.

McIlory’s brilliant final day gave him a victory which also created a bit of history, the first player to win the FedEx Cup for a third time. “It’s really cool to do something in golf that no one has ever done before,” he said.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times