Rory McIlroy wins the Irish Open in style
Prior to this week’s Irish Open, the last time Rory McIlroy won a golf tournament was last November at the DP World Tour Championship. For a variety of reasons, it feels like that win came much more than six months ago, but in case anyone thought that he was struggling or that he had fallen behind Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, his finish at the K Club leading to his twentieth professional win, was a resounding response.
He entered the final round with the lead but after numerous weather delays, Rory and Russell Knox were tied at the top on the 15th tee. After a perfect drive in the middle of the fairway, Knox stuffed his approach close with Rory in the trees, leading to a birdie but Rory was able to recover with a shot that should not be forgotten.
He was able to make par from there to stay one shot back of Knox, and that’s when he reminded us just how good he can really be. After watching Knox find the bunker from the tee, Rory smashed a drive down the middle of the fairway on the 570-yard par 5 16th, and followed that with this perfect 3-wood.
The two-putt birdie combined with Knox making bogey gave Rory the lead once again, and he kept firing. First, was the bullet draw from the 17th tee.
If you can point to something that has been off in his game, it’s been anything inside of 125 yards, putter included. That was an absolute non-issue on the 17th with an approach that was absolutely dialled in, and even though the putt lipped out, the one shot lead remained intact as he went up the 72nd hole.
When Rory won the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, it was only by two shots over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia, but if you watched it throughout the week, it was never really all that close. He entered the final round with a six shot lead because of ridiculous ball striking and a putter that was red hot, and if there was one signature shot for him that week, it was this laser on 18 at the end of his third round. He hit a 5-iron from 239 yards, and it could not have been more pure.
It was an awe inspiring shot that allowed Rory to firmly put his stamp on not only the event, but on the golf world as a whole. This was the first win for Rory after signing his massive deal with Nike, which was widely criticized as the kind of deal that could ruin the trajectory of one of the most talented players the game has ever seen. It was the ultimate validation that Rory was going to be just fine. Nearly two years later, Rory wasn’t battling his equipment or even playing poor golf, but it had been a little while since we had really seen one of those moments, while his two main rivals have had plenty. Jason Day has won seven of his last seventeen starts, including a dominating performance at the Players Championship last week. Jordan Spieth won two major championships last year, and has been right there to win each of the last three as well. Understand that the 2016 Irish Open isn’t on par with those events, but Rory’s moment did arrive with startling similarity to that 5-iron from two years ago.
Also understand that despite this not being a major, this win means a whole lot for Rory. Not only is this tournament his national open, but with his foundation as the title sponsor, it’s also a reminder of how far he has come as a player and person. He donated all of his winnings to the foundation, and sure, he doesn’t need the money but he knows exactly who does and the kids that he’s been able to help are important to him. This win means as much to them, if not more, than it means to Rory.
After that approach on 18, Rory was walking down the fairway with J.P. Fitzgerald, his longtime caddie and friend. With the crowds of people walking around him, Rory took a moment to breathe it all in and hold back the tears. The tournament was his and the relief, on multiple levels, was apparent.
It seems like over the past few months, we’ve all forgotten that this game is super difficult, even for someone as good as Rory McIlroy. The way he closed this tournament was his way of telling us, and maybe even Jordan and Jason, to not forget just how good he really is. With moments like this, it’s hard to fathom how we ever forgot in the first place.