Rory McIlroy missed the cut in each of his first three appearances at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Ten years removed from his first start at THE PLAYERS in 2009, the Northern Irishman arrived at TPC Sawgrass a much different player – with a matured mindset.
“I came on TOUR and all I wanted to do was keep my card,” McIlroy said when reflecting on his evolution over those 10 years. “And from there, you grow and you learn and you become a better player, and you realize that there’s a lot more that you can achieve.”
McIlroy himself admitted that a win at THE PLAYERS was near the top of the list of tournament titles he wanted to capture. The 29-year-old had 14 PGA TOUR titles under his belt when he entered the week of THE PLAYERS 2020. And with five top-6 finishes in each of his five previous starts, McIlroy’s game appeared more than ready to conquer Pete Dye’s masterpiece.
However, navigating the Stadium Course over the span of four days – let alone against the best field in the game – requires intense concentration, determination and creativity. Dye’s design tests every club in the bag. To triumph, the world’s best must bring a well-rounded game and execute under the very definition of pressure.
McIlroy did just that.
A 67 on Thursday put the Northern Irishman two strokes off the lead. A second-round, 7-under 65 propelled McIlroy to a share of the 36-hole lead with Tommy Fleetwood. Heading into Championship Sunday, McIlroy sat one stroke back of Spain’s Jon Rahm. As history has shown at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course, things can change in an instant on Dye’s diabolical design. In fact, McIlroy was one of eight players to have at least a share of the lead in the final round.
Displaying true grit, McIlroy bounced back from an over-par front nine and refused to let doubts enter his mound after a bogey on No. 14. As he entered one of the toughest finishing stretches in all of golf, McIlroy knew what he needed to do, and he executed, playing his final eight holes in 3-under par. His approach shot out of the fairway bunker on the 15th hole and his monster, 347-yard drive on 16 produced crucial, back-to-back birdies.
“The second shot on 15 to set up that birdie putt was the best shot of the day by far,” McIlroy said. “And then how I played the last few holes, I birdied 16, kept telling myself on the way to the 17th tee, just make three more good swings.”
In one of the most exciting final rounds in tournament history, McIlroy emerged on top to be crowned THE PLAYERS Champion, notch his 15th PGA TOUR victory and become the first player from Northern Ireland to win the TOUR’s flagship event. As luck would have it, McIlroy won THE PLAYERS on St. Patrick’s Day.
"Very proud, very honored to be able to call myself a PLAYERS champion,” said McIlroy. “I said last year, if I went through my career and I hadn't won this tournament, I would have felt like I missed out on something.”