Rory McIlroy wins third World Golf Championship title with play-off success at HSBC Champions in Shanghai
Rory McIlroy has picked up his fourth victory of 2019 by edging a play-off to win the World Golf Championship HSBC Champions event in Shanghai
McIlroy and defending champion Xander Schauffele were level after 72 holes but it was the world number two who held his nerve to make birdie on the additional hole and secure his third World Golf Championship success.
The win also closes the gap to world number one Brooks Koepka and, with one more event to come before the turn of the year at the European Tour's season climax in Dubai, he's targeting the top.
"I'm trying to," he said of chasing down the world's top player. "I'm still a little behind but I'm getting there. This win definitely helps and if I can get another one before the end of the year, I'll be feeling pretty good going into 2020."
McIlroy carded three rounds of 67 before a Sunday 68 to finish on -19 for the week, not dropping a single shot in his final 38 holes.
"Going bogey free over the weekend, I thought that would be enough to get the job done," he said as Schauffele managed to hang on and force a play-off.
"I've played 73 holes with Xander this week. I have to give credit to him. He's battled the flu all week and played unbelievably well considering how he's been feeling."
The win also leaves McIlroy leading the 19/20 FedEx Cup as he gets off to a positive start in his trophy defence.
"I am mindful of it," he said. "I got off to a good start last year and being up there from the start is huge."
It proved a fascinating tussle between the final trio as McIlroy went into the fourth round one ahead of Louis Oosthuizen and two clear of Schauffele.
Oosthuizen made a flying start with back-to-back birdies to begin the day and take the tournament lead.
McIlroy hauled himself level with his first birdie of the day on the fifth.
Then when both he and Schauffele birdied eight and nine while Oosthuizen went birdie-bogey, McIlroy was one clear of Schauffele at the turn but Oosthuizen had dropped two behind.
When all three players went one under for the first seven holes of the back nine, that was still the state of playing going on to the par three 17th.
All three left themselves testing three-footers for par and, although his two playing partners converted to ramp up the pressure, McIlroy followed in to hold his single shot lead going onto the last.
The 18th tee, however, was where the magnitude of the situation began to show on McIlroy, who pushed his drive right and will have been relieved when the ball caught up in the rough, stopping just a few feet short of the water hazard.
Schauffele found the fairway and seized the reward by hitting the par five green in two and two-putting for birdie. When McIlroy couldn't get up and down from 130 yards to win the tournament, it was a par and a play-off between the two.
McIlroy this time seized the advantage off the tee while Schaffele found the rough on the left. In the opposite of the 72nd hole, it was McIlroy who got up in two and two-putted for the winning birdie as Schauffele failed to get up and down from 105 yards out.
Now THIS is how you win a play-off! 😍 Well done Rory McIlroy! 👏🏼👏🏼 pic.twitter.com/YbdpBn0TuB— Belfast Telegraph Sport (@BelTel_Sport) November 3, 2019
"It was a perfect number for a four iron into the wind a little bit," he said of what proved the winning shot, his 223 yard approach in the play-off.
"I picked out a sign behind the green and just wanted to make a good swing. You've got to take everything else out of it and just hit the shot.
"This hole's been good to me all week. I had an eagle here on Friday and a great birdie yesterday. I got lucky on the 72nd hole not to go into the water and it was a relief to hit the two good shots in to win the play-off.
"It's a tough closing stretch even though there are holes you think you should birdie but I played conservatively when I needed to and it paid off."
McIlroy will tee it up for the final time in 2019 when he plays in the DP World Tour Championship from Dubai from November 21-24.
A win would make it five for the season, adding to his successes at The Players' Championship, the Canadian Open, the PGA Tour Championship and in Shanghai.
Belfast Telegraph Digital