By John Huggan
VIRGINIA WATER, England -- "Beware the injured golfer," goes the old saying. Well, the time may have come to re-phrase. After this, “watch out for the heart-broken Irishman” is perhaps more appropriate. Overcoming an overnight seven-shot deficit - albeit with some help from Thomas Bjorn, the stumbling 54-hole leader - Rory McIlroy emerged from a week of emotional turmoil to win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
(Getty Images photo)
He did it in style too. With a closing round of 66, the former U.S. Open and PGA champion picked up a check for €791,660 ($1.08 million) and, perhaps more importantly, ended a run of “backdoor top-tens” with what might be labeled a “sneaky” first win of 2014. Not until he holed for birdie from eight feet on the 71st green did McIlroy take the lead by himself.
It was that sort of day. After four holes, Bjorn was 16-under par and six strokes clear. Five holes later, the glowering Dane was 11-under and out of the lead he had held since his remarkable opening day 62. He fought hard thereafter though. And even stood on the 18th tee needing an unlikely eagle to tie. But when his drive found sand, his chance had all but gone.
Indeed, the inexorable demise of Bjorn was the cue for a “buddy movie” to break out. Another Irishman, Shane Lowry, McIlroy’s closest pal on tour, moved ahead, to the tune of three clear shots after 12 holes.
Not for long though. A pulled drive at the 13th led to a damaging double-bogey and was closely followed by a bogey at the 15th. After failing to birdie the long 17th, Lowry’s race was essentially run, although he did have the no doubt frustrating “satisfaction” of holing for birdie across the 18th green to finish second alone, one shot behind the new champion.
Luke Donald also left with regrets. Despite chipping in twice for birdie on the back nine, a triple bogey at the sixth was ultimately the former champion’s undoing. Not the fact that, needing an eagle to tie, he found water at the 18th with his ambitious approach. In the end, he tied for third with Bjorn, two shots back.
Which left McIlroy, who had begun the day seven shots behind Bjorn. Showing no sign of the obvious distress he had displayed in the immediate aftermath of his broken engagement with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, the 25-year old Belfast boy made six birdies and an eagle en route to what must surely have been the most emotionally challenging victory of his career. Crucially, his superior length allowed him to make relatively easy 4s at the two closing par-5s. Further proof that, at the top of his game, McIlroy remains the very best.