Rory McIlroy pulls off stunning comeback to win Tour Championship and FedEx Cup

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy pulled off an improbable comeback, rallying from six strokes back to knock off World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler with a final-round 4-under 66 at East Lake Golf Club to win the Tour Championship.

McIlroy became the first player to win the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour’s season-long competition, three times. He did it in dramatic fashion on Sunday, authoring the largest final-round comeback in Tour Championship history and finishing at 21 under, one stroke better than Scheffler and Sungjae Im. McIlroy said he wasn’t giving himself much of a chance to claim the top prize of $18 million at the start of the round, figuring he’d need to shoot 61 or 62.

“What a week, what a day. I feel like Scottie deserves at least half of this today,” McIlroy said. “I feel sort of bad that I pipped him to the post. He’s a hell of a competitor and an even better guy. It was an honor and a privilege to battle with him today. I’m sure there will be many more. I told him we’re 1 all in Georgia. He got the Masters and I got this.”

The Northern Irishman spotted Scheffler six strokes in the staggered-start scoring system implemented at the Tour Championship. McIlroy gave him an even bigger head start by pulling his opening tee shot of the tournament on Thursday out of bounds and made triple bogey at the first and bogey at the second to fall 10 strokes behind.

“I got off to the worst start possible,” said McIlroy, who said he thought of South Korea’s Tom Kim, who opened the Wyndham Championship with a quadruple bogey and went on to win.

“It just shows you anything’s possible, even when you’re a few behind or a few in front in the tournament. Anything can happen,” said McIlroy, who rebounded to shoot 67 on Thursday. “I’m going to remember this week mostly for that.”

He chipped away at Scheffler’s lead with another 67 on Friday and then made his move on Saturday. After the third round was suspended for the day due to lightning, McIlroy returned Sunday morning and made birdies on his final two holes to cap off a round of 7-under 63.

“It’s a perfect way to end the round,” McIlroy said.

Still Scheffler, who made four birdies in his final six holes of the third round, entered the final round with a six-stroke cushion. It disappeared quickly.

“Everybody talks about how fun it is to win. It’s not,” NBC’s Paul Azinger said. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. It’s only after the fact that it’s fun.”

On a bright, steamy day, McIlroy stumbled again at the first hole but bounced back with four birdies in a five-hole stretch beginning at the third. Trying for his fifth win of the season, Scheffler struggled to three bogeys in his first six holes.

“This is a disaster,” Azinger said after Scheffler flubbed a flop shot into a greenside bunker at No. 6. “It’s hard to watch this happen to a guy of this pedigree, this caliber. This was always going to be a hard day for him, a hard weekend, and he’s really feeling the heat now.”

McIlroy made birdie one hole later to tie for the lead. But Scheffler wouldn’t go down without a fight. He stuck his approach to 5 feet at No. 8 to regain the lead. McIlroy knotted the tournament again with a short birdie at No. 12, but surrendered a stroke when he failed to get up and down at 14. He got the stroke back in dramatic fashion, sinking a 32-foot birdie putt one hole later and sending the pro-McIlroy gallery into a frenzy. For the day, McIlroy was the top putter, gaining nearly four strokes on the field on the greens.

The lead belonged to McIlroy one hole later when his chip from behind the green hit the flagstick and stopped 7 feet away. McIlroy coolly canned the par putt to stay 21 under and Scheffler missed from 9 feet.

“That was a combination of skill and luck,” McIlroy said of his par at 16, which knocked Scheffler from the lead for the first time all tournament.

Scheffler failed to birdie either of the last two holes and closed in 3-over 73, which tied for the highest score of the day among the 29-man field, and his six-stroke cushion matched losing the largest lead going into the final round in Tour history.

“I really fought hard today,” Scheffler said. “Rory just played a really good round of golf. He made some key putts there at the end, and he definitely deserved to win.”

Despite a double bogey at 14 when he duffed a flop shot, the 24-year-old South Korean Im birdied two of his last four holes to shoot 66 and concluded his most successful season to date with quite the payday. He took home $5.75 million for finishing tied for second.

“My goal this week was to finish top 5, and to be finishing this high up is very unexpected,” Im said. “I’m glad how everything came out together.”

So, too, was McIlroy, who previously won the 2016 Deutsche Bank Championship after being 4-over through three holes and overcoming a six-stroke final-round deficit there as well. Why does he thrive in the role of chaser?

“Because I think out of anyone in the field,” he said, “I care the least about the money.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek