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Comment: Rory McIlroy has landed real blow in battle with rival Brooks Koepka

Rory McIlroy celebrates
Rory McIlroy celebrates
Adam McKendry

Adam McKendry

Let's get one thing out of the way right now: to borrow some boxing parlance, Rory McIlroy is the undisputed champion of the PGA Tour.

Whether you agree with the new format or not, there's no doubting the outcome. Even if you took away the staggered start, McIlroy still would have finished top of the leaderboard on Sunday night and still would have walked away $15m (£12.2m) and two trophies better off than he did when he arrived at East Lake.

Maybe that's the best way for it to have happened - or maybe we wanted a dramatic finish to see the fallout instead, who knows - but at the end of the day, there's no denying the finish.

Rory McIlroy is the champion of the PGA Tour for 2019, and oh how sweet that must have sounded on the 18th green to the Holywood man.

He's been, by some distance this season, the most consistent player on Tour, that much can't be disputed, having had 14 top-10 finishes on his way to collecting the FedEx Cup.

His nearest challenger in that category was Jon Rahm on 12, the only other player to reach double figures.

McIlroy had the most wins on Tour this season with three, tied with Brooks Koepka. Even delving into stats surrounding his game, McIlroy was the most consistent player on Tour this season. First in strokes gained, first in scoring average, second in driving distance, the list goes on.

McIlroy was the best player on the PGA Tour this season, full stop.

But perhaps the most pleasing aspect of it all, even more so than getting the reward for his incredible season, would have been the satisfaction McIlroy got from giving playing partner Koepka a handshake on the final green and knowing that this time he had emerged victorious.

It's no secret that the pair aren't exactly the best of friends, and losing the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational to Koepka a month ago hurt McIlroy. That was supposed to be the first real head-to-head heavyweight clash between the pair, and he fluffed his lines. Badly.

But his revenge came on Sunday, and this time there was no error.

By the time it was all said and done, Koepka was seven shots worse off than McIlroy, having started two shots better than him on Thursday.

This wasn't just revenge. This was humiliation.

In such an individual sport, opportunities to strike a psychological blow can be few and far apart, so you have to take them when they come.

McIlroy didn't just take this one, he grabbed it by the throat and shoved it in Koepka's face.

Now No.1 and No.2 in the world rankings, there is a genuine rivalry growing with every battle the pair have. Golf hasn't had a true rivalry since perhaps Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but it could have one now. The only thing McIlroy and Koepka are yet to go toe-to-toe in is a Major, but you sense that opportunity isn't far away.

McIlroy will relish it. Forget the Tour Championship. Forget the FedEx Cup. Forget the $15m.

For the first time, he has the upper hand - and he will be loving every single second of it.

Belfast Telegraph


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