GULLANE, Scotland – A great golf shot is like a magic trick. It gets more jaw-dropping the closer you come, and no one appreciates it quite like another magician.
When Rory McIlroy scalded a 2-iron into the wind to within 10 feet, 8 inches of the pin on the 18th hole at The Renaissance Club, setting up the putt that would win him the Genesis Scottish Open on Sunday, the identity of perhaps the most impressed onlooker was fitting. It was the swoosh-wearing guy whose own 2-iron became an instant classic at the Presidents Cup last fall: playing partner Tom Kim.
“It was nice to show the youngster I still have it in me,” said McIlroy, whose second PGA TOUR title this season was the 24th of his career. “… That’s probably going to be up there with one of the best shots I’ll hit in my career.”
Another was his 5-iron to 4 1/2 feet to set up birdie on 17. The birdie-birdie finish completed a 2-under 68 (back-nine 31) and broke the heart of Scotland’s favorite son, Robert MacIntyre, whose 64 was best of the day. He watched McIlroy’s heroics on a TV behind the driving range, where he prepared for a playoff that never came.
There were just three birdies recorded at the par-4 18th all day, which played as Sunday’s toughest hole (4.67), two of which were authored by MacIntyre and McIlroy.
“No one else but Rory could’ve done that,” said Dougie MacIntyre, Robert’s father, shaking his head. He’d been hoping to see his son win for the first time since the 2015 Scottish Amateur.
“Rory McIlroy’s potentially the best in the world, and he showed why today,” added Robert.
This did not look like a McIlroy victory. He shot 2 over on the front nine, failed to birdie the downwind par-5 10th hole, where MacIntyre had made eagle, and all but gave up on his par try at the par-3 12th hole before a gust of wind blew it in the hole. McIlroy trailed by either one or two for much of the back nine.
Indeed, such was his reversal of fortunes that even he sounded impressed.
“The two iron shots I hit, 5-iron on 17, and then that 2-iron into the last there, they are two of the best iron shots I can remember hitting,” he said, “especially under the circumstances.”
With those two master strokes, and the putts that followed, McIlroy dispelled a few myths.
He can’t play in the wind? Actually, he can. So fierce were the gusts that Kim’s ball blew away after he marked it on 18. McIlroy’s hat flew off his head during the trophy ceremony.
And the notion that he can’t make pressure putts? Well, strike that one, too. After wallowing in negative numbers in Strokes Gained: Putting in the second and third rounds, he made a 38-foot birdie putt at the par-3 14th hole; converted from short and medium range on 17 and 18, respectively; and ranked third (+2.67) in Round 4.
McIlroy won for the first time anywhere since January (Hero Dubai Desert Classic) and put an exclamation point on a run of form that had seen him author five straight top-10s on the PGA TOUR without a win. He erased those close calls by winning several times over at the co-sanctioned Genesis Scottish Open.
Last year McIlroy became just the second to win the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai (four career titles) and the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup (three) in the same season. With his victory Sunday, he extended his Race to Dubai lead and moved from seventh to third in the FedExCup. He could be on track to capture both titles for a second straight year.
He also became the first to win the Irish Open, Scottish Open, and The Open Championship – the major he won in 2014 before the onset of a vexing drought in the majors that is now at nine years. At the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews last summer, he made 16 final-round pars and shot 70 to finish second. It was the same story at last month’s U.S. Open: 16 pars, 70, second place. McIlroy has six top-10s without a win in his last seven major starts.
Now, though, he heads to Royal Liverpool on a roll.
“Yeah, it feels great,” he said. “I came here this week, we are obviously on the eve of The Open Championship, but you know, you’re thinking about trying to prepare for that. But then you know you think about the weight that this tournament carries, being co-sanctioned for Race to Dubai, FedExCup, all the stuff at the end of the year as well.”
All week he spoke of killing “two birds with one stone” – a feat perhaps best appreciated by The Renaissance Club’s resident falcon, which seemed to be watching intently from the arm of its uniformed handler. Now he’s done it.
“Obviously a huge confidence boost going into The Open,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had my chances over the last couple of months and been knocking on the door. … Hopefully this breaks the seal, and we can go on from here.”