Rory McIlroy admitted he had been motivated by pulling clear of Greg Norman’s PGA Tour title haul after surging to victory at the Canadian Open on Sunday.
McIlroy bagged the 21st PGA Tour win of his career in an enthralling final round in Toronto, carding an eight-under-par 62 for a two-shot win.
It came at the end of a momentous week in the golfing world, which is in turmoil following the launch of the lucrative Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series fronted by Australian veteran Norman.
McIlroy, who was level with Norman on 20 PGA Tour victories prior to this week’s event in Canada, said going one better than the polarising Norman’s total was especially satisfying.
“I had extra motivation of what’s going on across the pond,” McIlroy said. “The guy that’s spearheading that tour has 20 wins on the PGA Tour and I was tied with him and I wanted to get one ahead of him. And I did.
“So that was really cool for me, just a little sense of pride on that one,” added McIlroy, who did not mention Norman directly by name.
McIlroy fired 10 birdies on Sunday en route to successfully defending the title he won in 2019.
The Northern Ireland star survived some tense moments on the back nine, closing with birdies at the 17th and 18th to seal the victory with a 19-under-par total of 261.
American Tony Finau, who started the day tied for the lead, carded his sixth birdie of the day at 18 for a six under 64 that put him alone in second on 263 – one stroke in front of compatriot Justin Thomas.
Thomas was tied for the lead with two to play, but closed with back-to-back bogeys in a 64 for 265.
“This is a day I’ll remember for a long, long time,” McIlroy said as fans – who poured on to the fairway to surround the final trio on the 18th green – cheerfully chanted his name.
It was his first chance to defend the title he won in 2019 after the Covid pandemic forced the cancellation of the event in 2020 and 2021.
“Playing with Tony and JT today – two of the top players in the world, all of us playing the way we did. I think the worst score in the group was what, six under?” added McIlroy after what he described as a “proper golf tournament”.
McIlroy set an early tone with a 26-foot birdie at the 1st. He added a four-footer at the 4th, chipped in at the 6th and made a short birdie at the 7th – then got really hot with birdies at the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th, where he poured in a 39-footer.
But Thomas wouldn’t let him get away. After a birdie at the 2nd, the American birdied six in a row from the 6th through the 11th. His birdie at 14 – after McIlroy bogeyed 13 – cut the lead to one stroke.
After McIlroy bogeyed 16 they were tied at 17 under – but McIlroy finished with a flourish as Thomas faded and Finau drained a 40-foot putt at the 72nd hole to snatch solo second.
England’s Justin Rose provided a curtain-raiser to the final-group fireworks on the par-70 St George’s Golf and Country Club course in suburban Toronto.
Rose flirted with the 13th sub-60 round in PGA Tour history, but a bogey at 18 had him settle for a tournament record-equalling 10-under-par 60.
Rose – who had a real chance not only at 59 but even at Jim Furyk’s PGA record of 58 – admitted it was a disappointing finish “because you know what’s at stake, for sure.
“I never shot 59 before, so it would have been a lovely footnote on the week,” added Rose, who finished tied for fourth with Sam Burns, five shots off the lead.
© Agence France-Presse