Billed as the future of Scottish professional male golf and earmarked as a potential Europe Ryder Cup star, Robert MacIntyre added so much substance to the hype at the Italian Open when not only beating Matt Fitzpatrick in a playoff but also fending off Rory McIlroy.
This is the win for which the 26-year-old from Oban craved. MacIntyre broke his DP World Tour maiden in Cyprus in 2020 and emphasised his ball-striking quality with two top 10s in the Open and a top 12 at the 2020 Masters.
But having cracked the world’s top 50, MacIntyre had fallen to 110 in the rankings and bemoaning a season in which he had enjoyed only one top 10. Yet he turned that mediocrity around in the final round in Rome, shooting a 64 to reach 14-under and force extra holes with Fitzpatrick, the reigning US Open champion, who fired a 67. MacIntyre birdied the first hole of sudden death and was understandably emotional.
"This means everything," MacIntyre said. "I was down and out two or three months ago. I didn't know what I was doing, didn't know where to go, but we spoke to the right people and I've hit two of the perfect golf shots into the last there. There's so much hard work gone into this.
"I've got a dogged attitude, never give up. I get punched but I punch back. The birdies coming in were massive and thankfully I got one there in the play-off."
Luke Donald, Europe’s captain, will certainly be impressed with MacIntyre’s 11 birdies on the final day. Marco Simone Country Club will host the biennial dust-up in a year and after McIlroy tipped him to make the team, MacIntyre stressed his determination.
"We are well away from the Ryder Cup obviously, but it's my number one priority,” he said. “I'm playing on the course where the Ryder Cup is going to be held and I’ve gone up against some of the best players in the world and I've started off in perfect fashion.”
McIlroy, one off the overnight lead, double-bogeyed the first and despite a back-nine fightback to post a 68 and close on 12-under, one behind third-placed Victor Perez, the world No 2 was left to reflect on another close call after finishing second at the BMW PGA Championship the previous Sunday.
Danny Willett, meanwhile, three-putted the 18th to miss out on the Fortinet Championship title by a shot to Max Homa.
In the LIV event in Chicago, Cam Smith, the Open champion, shot a 69 to win the £3.5million first prize on 13-under. Americans Dustin Johnson and Peter Uilhlein and Dustin Johson finished three behind.