Rory McIlroy was the world’s top-ranked golfer at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020. Since then, he did win once at the Wells Fargo Championship last year, but he felt that a 14th-place finish in the FedEx Cup standings was a bit of a disappointment. Follow that with a brutal defeat in the Ryder Cup three weeks ago, and McIlroy found himself taking stock of his game and what he needed to do to get back into the groove that saw him win three times in 2019 and win four majors over the course of his career. Here is the 2021 CJ Cup review.
“I just need to play golf, I need to simplify it, I need to just be me, ”Rory McIlroy said of his period of self-reflection. “For the last few months, I was maybe trying to be someone else to try to get better, and I sort of realized that being me is enough and being me, I can do things like this.”
The “this” that he is referring to is becoming the 39th player in PGA Tour history to win at least 20 times, which he accomplished Sunday by winning The CJ Cup in Las Vegas by one stroke over Collin Morikawa.
The 32-year-old from Northern Ireland put himself in contention with a 62 on Saturday at the CJ Cup, which was his best round on tour in over two years, putting him two shots behind Rickie Fowler entering Sunday’s final round.
Fowler recorded a double-bogey on the par-5 sixth, which brought McIlroy into a tie for the lead at -21 along with Morikawa, who had just gone 7-under on the front nine. Rory McIlroy was 4-under on the front nine and took the lead for good with an eagle on the par-5 14th. Morikawa, meanwhile, hit an eagle on No. 18 to finish at -24 after posting his own 62. McIlroy stood at -25 after his eagle, so he just needed to keep a clean scorecard the rest of the way, which he did by parring the final four holes for a 66 on the day to win by one stroke.
“I know that when I do the things that I do well, this is what I’m capable of,” McIlroy said after the CJ Cup victory. “I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA Tour and being the best player in the world.”
McIlroy said that his philosophy of getting back to basics started before his singles match against Xander Schauffele on Ryder Cup Sunday. After losing all the team matches, he became laser-focused on winning that point, and he did.
“I went out against Xander and all I wanted to do was win the point, right? Hadn’t done much else the rest of the week. I wasn’t trying to be perfect; I wasn’t trying to hit shots that I wasn’t comfortable hitting. I just went out there to try to win my match, and I did,” McIlroy explained.
By recording his 20th victory on the tour, RoryMcIlroy now has a lifetime exemption once he reaches his 15th season, which will be in 2023-24. He said that was a major goal of his because he has small children, and he’s looking forward to being able to pick and choose which events to play in more as his kids age.
“When you look at the bigger things in life, getting to that level, I can pick and choose where I play nowadays anyway, but that makes it even better and less of a burden,” Rory McIlroy said about the new perk he will be able to enjoy in a few years.
After winning The Open Championship and finishing fourth at the Olympics, Morikawa struggled a bit for the rest of the season, missing the cut at The Northern Trust and ending up 26th at the Tour Championship. But he was a spectacular 4-0-1 at the Ryder Cup and now came back to finish runner-up here in his first tournament of the new season, so be on the lookout for him in the coming weeks, as he appears to be back in form. It also helped Morikawa that his home course is the Summit Club, and it was the first PGA Tour event contested there, so he had an experience advantage over the rest of the field.
For Fowler, he ended up tied for third with Keith Mitchell at -22. While the result is disappointing after leading by two shots going into the final round, it’s an overall big improvement, as he hadn’t had a top-10 finish since the PGA Championship in May, and he missed the cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last weekend in Las Vegas. His last win was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2019, which was nearly three years ago.
“It felt good to finally hit the golf ball properly, at least most of the time, for 72 holes,” Fowler said after his final round 71. “A lot of quality shots, a lot of good swings this week. Drove the ball well, which set me up to play golf around this place. That’s the first key is, one, staying out of the desert and driving it in the fairway. We did a really good job.”
The only place where Fowler needs to improve is on the green, as he was 51st out of the 78-player field in strokes gained: putting. Fowler not winning the tournament after holding the lead at the 54-hole mark continues an incredible streak where the 54-hole leader hasn’t won since Phil Mickelson did it at the PGA Championship five months ago.
Behind Fowler and Mitchell was a four-way tie for fifth at -21. Talor Gooch was among that group after firing a 10-under 62 on Sunday. Also at -21 was Aaron Wise, Adam Scott, and Sam Burns, who won two weeks ago at the Sanderson Farms Championship and is the current FedEx Cup points leader.
Rounding out the top 10 was a five-way tie for ninth, including Sungjae Im at -20. He won last week at TPC Summerlin and had a nice showing here as the top-finishing South Korean for an event that usually takes place in his country but was moved to the U.S. the past two seasons due to COVID-19 travel issues. Gary Woodland, Harry Higgs, Robert Streb, and Cameron Smith also finished at -20.
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