Rory McIlroy won his third tournament of the year with his win at the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC of Boston.
He went into Monday’s final round three shots behind Louis Oosthuizen and with a specific plan:
I just wanted to get off to a good solid start and maybe put Louis under a little bit of pressure. I was able to do that playing the first holes 3‑under, and we both made a couple mistakes on the fifth hole, but he made a 6 to my 5, so I was able to take advantage of that a little bit. I think the good start set me up for a solid back nine.
That fifth hole was pivotal for another reason as well. Not only did Oosthuizen make a double bogey, he inadvertently gave away a weakness. After piping virtually every one of his tee shots Sunday, the tee shot he hit on 5 was so wild, it suggested that the little tweak he felt in his right “pec” on Sunday had not, indeed, resolved itself as he had thought.
The ball was a towering hook deep into the forest that was also marked as a hazard. The ball was so deep in the trees that they never found it. But because the gallery members had seen it sailing into the trees, there was no doubt it was in the hazard and he was able to take a drop there rather than going all the way back to the tee for a lost ball.
So he has the resultant double bogey on his mind, the fact that McIlroy had closed the gap down to just one and that the injury hadn’t healed:
Yeah, that was the first time I felt the shoulder, just after impact, and then 6, 7 the same, on 9 again. It was just on the drive all the time. It sort of eased off going on the back nine. Going down 12, I didn’t feel it at all, and probably a bit of adrenaline that helped going down the final holes there. I didn’t feel it.
With all of that going on, it was impressive that he was able, with what appeared to be modulated drives, to put together a string of pars all the way to the birdies on 13 and then again on 15.
Meanwhile, McIlroy didn’t have any of that on his mind, he was just executing the plan:
There’s two really good chances in the first four holes, the 2nd and the 4th. If I birdie those and maybe if I snuck another one out of those first four holes, I’ll be really happy, which I did. Yeah, I thought if I could play the front nine in 3‑ or 4‑under par, I’ve played it in 4‑under, I didn’t think I’d quite have the lead, but I’d be pretty close or at least be a little bit closer to Louis.
He didn’t get off to the start that he wanted to, obviously, and I got level with him pretty soon in the round. I made a couple good birdies on the 6th and 8th hole and it just sort of got me going.
Aside from generally knowing where Oosthuizen stood, McIlroy didn’t dwell on his troubles, he just kept focusing on his shots and by the 6th hole he had the lead for good:
No, I mean, I just — you can’t really let what the other guy is doing affect you in any way. You’ve just got to keep playing your game, keep trying to give yourself opportunities for birdies, try and hit fairways, try and hit greens. And that was all I was trying to do. I knew I was a couple ahead, three ahead, one ahead. He made a couple birdies there on 13 and 15 to get back to within one, so I always knew where I was in that regard, but I wasn’t really looking at what he was doing, I was just thinking about how many shots I had.
Yeah, once I got into the lead, I felt very comfortable and just tried to keep applying the pressure, hit fairways, hit greens, and it worked for the most part. Obviously had a couple wobbles there coming in, but did enough in the early part of the round to have enough of a cushion to get the job done.
The other player in this drama was Tiger Woods who started six back of Oosthuizen and T3 with Dustin Johnson. The two of them played right in front of Oosthuizen and McIlroy and while Johnson languished early and could only manage 1-under on the day, Woods went right to work.
He started making birdies on the 4th and didn’t stop until he had four of them through the 9th. With all those “Tiger roars” thundering from the crowd, it was another measure of just how steadfast McIlroy’s performance was. But Tiger couldn’t move the meter again until his birdie on 18, but by then it was too late. Impressively, he got within two of McIlroy at the end and finished 3rd by himself.
The big takeaway for Tiger was that he finally has the Sean Foley tight, cut shot under control. But he needed to hit a tight draw on 16 over the water to a back left pin and he could only get the ball to go straight and short on the front of the green. When he gets being able to control the ball both ways locked down, we will be treated to his old, otherworldly confidence once again. Now he seems like he’s playing so carefully.
In the end, McIlroy’s putt on 18 to ice it hung on the very edge of the cup but wouldn’t drop. And Oosthuizen’s birdie putt to get into a playoff singed the edge as it went by. The two friends shook hands and hugged.
The big takeaway for McIlroy is that he has now learned what it takes to operate in the stratosphere of the PGA Tour:
I think I’ve just learned. I’ve learned how to handle winning big events and carrying myself forward and not dwelling on what’s happened, just moving forward, just trying to win another golf tournament, trying to put myself in position. There’s a time and a place to celebrate and to enjoy what you’ve done, and going into the Playoffs isn’t it. You have to just focus on the week ahead. I’ll get to Crooked Stick tomorrow [for the BMW, the third of The Playoffs tournaments] and start to prepare for that tournament.
This run that we’re on, we just have to keep thinking about the next week, and once Ryder Cup is over, for sure I’ll think back and I’ll celebrate and I’ll enjoy the great golf that I’ve played over the last few weeks. [But not until then.]
Talk about walking a fine line. But to his credit, he’s not talking about being unaffected by the past prospectively; he’s already done it.