Facing the fresh challenge of Masters champion Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy reasserted his dominance as golf’s world No.1 in style by winning the World Golf Championships Match Play title.
Just a day away from his 26th birthday, McIlroy can celebrate with a $A2 million winner’s cheque after becoming the second person to win the event as the top seed, joining Tiger Woods who did so in 2003, 2004 and 2008.
The Northern Irishman had to beat three players on a marathon last day, finishing off a darkness-delayed quarter-final win over Paul Casey (22 holes), producing a stirring finish to take out Jim Furyk (1 up) and then cleaning up Gary Woodland 4 and 2 in the final.
It ensured he registered a perfect 7-0 record over the five days at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park, also beating Jason Dufner (5 and 4), Brandt Snedeker (2 up), and Billy Horschel (20 holes) in pool play then dominating Hideki Matsuyama (6 and 5) in the round of 16.
It is McIlroy’s 10th US PGA Tour win and second WGC title to go with a further seven international victories.
In the last 75 years, only Woods (29) and 18-time major winning legend Jack Nicklaus (17) have had 10 or more US PGA tour wins before the age of 26.
With 21-year-old Spieth talking up a potential rivalry after some red-hot form including his Masters triumph, McIlroy padded his lead at the top of the world rankings to a dominant 3.5724 points.
“I think everyone, not just me, was inspired seeing Jordan do what he did at Augusta and I definitely wanted to come out and play well and increase my lead in the world rankings,” McIlroy said.
“And I want to keep it going. It’s always nice to have people pushing you, and I feel like he’s one of the guys doing that right now.”
In control with a 4-up lead through 10 holes in the final, McIlroy invited a Woodland comeback by losing the 11th and 12th holes to halve his advantage.
It should have been three straight losses but Woodland missed a three-foot putt with a chance to win the 13th hole, a costly mistake.
The American then three-putted the 14th green to hand the ascendancy right back to the Northern Irishman and he closed it out on the 16th green when Woodland conceded after failing to make a birdie.
Earlier he took out Furyk by making birdie on the 17th to tie up their semi-final and moved into the final with a 44-foot eagle putt on the 18th green.
Woodland earned his place in the final with a 3 and 2 win over England’s Danny Willett and can at least be happy with his $A1.19 million runner up cheque.
Willett claimed the third place match 3 and 2 from Furyk, giving the 27-year-old enough points to take up special temporary membership on the US Tour.
John Senden was the best-placed Australian in a tie for fifth after losing his quarter-final to Woodland on Saturday.