Rory McIlroy added another title to his distinguished career Sunday, and this one was extra special.
His triumph at the CJ Cup at The Summit Club is victory No. 20 on the PGA Tour, putting him in elite company and giving him lifetime membership. And he’s just 32.
McIlroy overtook third-round leader Rickie Fowler on the front nine, then surged ahead to hold off a challenge from Collin Morikawa to secure the title. McIlroy had a 66 on Sunday, taking him to 25-under 263 and one better than the Las Vegas resident who calls The Summit Club home.
“It’s quite an achievement,” McIlroy said of reaching the 20-win plateau. “I was asked that question at the start of the week, and it is a pretty big carrot. I didn’t know if it was going to be this week, but I knew if I just kept my head down and kept playing well and doing the right things, eventually I’d get there.”
McIlroy began the day two shots behind Fowler, and the deficit reached three when they reached the par-5 sixth hole. But while McIlroy was getting up and down for birdie, Fowler made his only major mistake of the week, hitting his second shot into the native area. From there, he took a penalty drop, then compounded his issues with a three-putt for double bogey.
“I just had a couple swings that got me out of position,” said Fowler, chasing his first win in almost three years. “I was really just trying to hit it up the left part of the green there, just got a touch left of my line.”
After another birdie on No. 8, McIlroy would never trail Fowler again. That left him to deal with Morikawa, who was four groups in front of him and sizzling.
Morikawa birdied seven holes on the front to turn in 29, then added another at 11 to take the outright lead. But it was nothing but pars the rest of the way until an eagle at 18 to post 62.
“I gave myself chances. I kept hitting good shots,” Morikawa said. “They weren’t as close as that front nine, but I still had a lot of birdie opportunities and left a few that just kind of rolled right by the edge. They were going in on the front; they weren’t on the back.”
McIlroy also slowed on the back nine, but when he drained a 35-footer from the fringe for eagle on the 14th, he had control.
“I putted great this week, that was sort of the bedrock of the game,” he said. “I did other things well, but I really putted great, exemplified by the putt on 14 for eagle that sort of separated me from the pack today. I was able to just sort of cruise in from there.”
And cruise he did. He played conservatively over the final four holes, knowing his cushion over Morikawa was enough as long as he didn’t make any mistakes. Accomplishing that, and a strong mental focus, were keys to his week, he said.
“I feel like I made one mental error today, which was on the fifth hole,” McIlroy said. “I tried to hit driver off that tee after making a bogey on the fourth hole beforehand. Then I just said to myself going up that fairway I need to be more disciplined. So the word of the day after that was discipline, and I got myself in the right frame of mind after that.”
McIlroy becomes the fourth active player with at least 20 wins, joining Tiger Woods (82), Phil Mickelson (45) and Dustin Johnson (24). He’s also the sixth player to do it before turning 33, joining a Hall of Fame list comprised of Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Billy Casper.
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago when I was starting my journey on Tour, or 12 years ago, I guess, 20 wins seems like a long way away,” he said.
Given the state of his game, 20 seems as if it will be in the rearview mirror soon.
Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.