Rory McIlroy ends tumultuous week in which he split with Caroline Wozniacki with triumph PGA Championship at Wentworth
Rory McIlroy may have cancelled the wedding in New York, but at least the reception at Wentworth on Sunday was terrific. No invitations were sent out but 25,000 people came anyway to give the Northern Irishman a collective hug and to roar their support for him as he rolled in his final birdie putt on the 18th green for a 66 to get to 14 under par and seal victory at the BMW PGA Championship.
It is his 12th victory as a professional but bizarrely the first on European soil. McIlroy’s celebrations were muted and he admitted that he had “mixed emotions” in victory. “I can’t explain it but I’m sitting here looking at this trophy thinking how the hell did it happen this week? But it did.”
McIlroy began the week close to tears announcing that the romance with Caroline Wozniacki was over. He looked barely capable of making the weekend cut as his head and heart were clearly scrambled. He admitted as much, too.
Yet it is testament to the genius of this 25-year-old that he was able to step inside the ropes here and, like a boxer, filter out the fog of life’s travails and the heartbreak of the breakdown of his impending marriage.
McIlroy began the day seven shots behind Thomas Bjorn, who started the final round with a five-shot lead of his rivals. The 43-year-old Dane blew it. “It was not an event I would have envisaged winning at the start of the week,” McIlroy said.
“But when I got inside the ropes, it was like a release. I was on my own and doing what I do best, which is playing golf, and that sort of gave me four or five hours of serenity or sanctuary,” he said. “I’m looking at the trophy thinking how the hell did I do it?”
He did it by playing beautifully but he also had help from those around him making mistakes. It all started to unravel for Bjorn at the sixth. He took a swipe out of sand but his ball cannoned off the lip of the bunker and lobbed back at his feet. Bjorn had to show some nifty Riverdance jigging to avoid it hitting him, which would have incurred a penalty. But he hobbled off the green with a triple-bogey seven. His lead was gone and it never came back. He limped home with a 75 to finish two shots adrift.
“It’s a disappointment when you come off the golf course like this,” Bjorn said. “Just didn’t get it right today and I made that massive judgement error on the sixth, and that let everybody back into the frame.”
Whatever was ailing Bjorn, it was clearly contagious. Luke Donald matched his seven. But the Englishman is a former World No 1 and is a fighter. Sporting black and white gangster spats, he machine-gunned five birdies but he could only par the final two holes when he needed two birdies to take McIlroy into a play-off.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry eagled the par-five fourth to catch Bjorn but if they both looked in their rear-view mirrors, they would have seen McIlroy’s name writ large on the giant leaderboards around the West Course. McIlroy, like his best mate Lowry, eagled the fourth. His putt dithered on the edge of the hole before making the decision to commit. It prompted his biggest smile of the week. It gave note that here was one occasion he was going to stick around for.
But after three birdies in a row from the 10th, it looked like Lowry had control of the tournament. But he bunted one into the trees at the 13th, had to take a penalty drop, and trudged off with a double-bogey six. His body language was that of a child at a party who had just accidentally popped his own balloon. Lowry at least went home with some cake holing from 50 feet at the final hole to finish second as McIlroy’s bridesmaid at 13 under par.
Meanwhile, McIlroy had seemingly remembered that he is a two-time major winner and a former World No 1 rather than a single young man again.
Three birdies in four holes from the 10th signalled that he was about to break more hearts this week. He is No 1 in driving distance on the European Tour this season averaging 314 yards and he began to make his prodigious length off the tee pay dividends. His short game’s not too shabby, either. He chipped in at the 10th for a birdie and got up and down from the greenside bunker at the 18th for the birdie that separated him from his rivals.
The next major stop for McIlroy will be the US Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina in three weeks’ time. “This does my confidence the world of good to know I can get the job done under pressure,” he said. “I think this was meant to be in some strange way.”
But there’s a trip back to Northern Ireland before all that. A reality check from his celebrity life. “I’m going to go home to see my mum,” McIlroy said.
Belfast Telegraph Digital