Rory McIlroy celebrated St Patrick’s Day in style with victory in the prestigious Players Championship after a thrilling final round at Sawgrass.
McIlroy recovered from an early double bogey to card a closing 70 and finish 16 under par, one shot ahead of former Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk, who had threatened to become the oldest winner in tournament history.
Furyk set the clubhouse target after a 67 that included two birdies in the last three holes, the 48-year-old – who is less than a month older than 2005 champion Fred Funk – hitting a brilliant approach to just three feet at the last.
However, McIlroy bounced back from a bogey on the 14th with birdies at the next two holes to move back into the lead and safely negotiated the treacherous 17th and 18th to secure a 15th PGA Tour title after starting the season with five consecutive top-six finishes.
On his tournament debut, England’s Eddie Pepperell shared third place with Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas on 14 under, both players holing improbable birdie putts on the 17th in matching rounds of 66.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who began the day in joint second with McIlroy, gave himself an outside chance of forcing a play-off with his Ryder Cup team-mate with an eagle on the 16th, only to promptly hit his tee shot on the 17th into the water.
McIlroy told Sky Sports: “It’s very special. I just tried to treat it like any other day. Even though I’ve had all those close calls this year they didn’t mean anything.
“If anything they were good for me, I called them ‘remote misses’, it gives you even more hope to go forward and go again. I think all those experiences this year led me to this point and ultimately they were good for me because it got me over the line today.
“The birdie on 12 was huge to give me a bit of momentum and the final few holes were tough. To get that birdie on 15 after the dropped shot on 14 was massive.
“I knew 16 was a good chance and to par the last two holes and hit three good shots when I needed to, that gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
The victory comes just weeks before McIlroy will attempt to win the Masters and become only the sixth player to complete a career grand slam.
The 29-year-old added: “If I hadn’t have won today I would have said I don’t need a win going into Augusta, but it’s very nice to get a win, especially doing it on this golf course, honestly a golf course that played a little bit similar to the way Augusta will play in a few weeks’ time.
“I can take a lot from this. It’s taken me a few weeks to get to this point but I feel like I’m playing some of the best golf of my life right now and I just need to keep going with it and keep doing the same things.”