Ranking Rory McIlroy's 6 most iconic victories
Rory heads to the Open as the favourite, but which is his greatest victory to date? We ranked his top six, based on difficulty, narrative and legacy.
With four major championships and 23 total wins to his name, Rory McIlroy has had plenty of iconic moments in his career to date. So, ahead of the Open at Royal Portrush, we started thinking: which is his greatest victory ever?
It was too hard to pick one, so we narrowed it down to six and ranked them in order, taking the following criteria – difficulty, narrative and legacy – into consideration.
Each category was marked out of five – five being the best, one being the worst – with the highest score winning out.
6. 2016 TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP (East Lake)
Stock in Rory McIlroy has never really been low, but it wasn’t exactly booming at the start of September 2016.
The four-time major champion hadn’t won on the PGA Tour in over a year, had missed the cut in two of the season’s four majors, and was being criticised for skipping the Olympic games and spending too much time in the gym.
Dustin Johnson, not McIlroy, was widely considered the best player in the world, while Jordan Spieth was golf’s new golden boy.
Then McIlroy won two of the four season-ending FedEx Cup events, taking home the $10m grand prize and reminding everyone why, at his best, he’s the best golfer on the planet.
The second of those, at the Tour Championship, was special.
Three shots behind with three to play, McIlroy holed a 137-yard pitch on the 16th hole that helped him sneak into a three-way playoff.
Four holes into that playoff, he nailed a 15-foot putt to win the tournament, and let out a roar that will forever feature in his greatest moments montage.
5. 2019 PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP (Sawgrass)
Nicklaus. Norman. Woods.
All the greats have won the Players Championship, a tournament that McIlroy himself admitted he was desperate to add to his CV.
The narrative surrounding the Northern Irishman when he arrived at golf’s ‘fifth major’ was a familiar one.
He had finished sixth or better in all five of his starts in 2019 but had failed to convert, and critics were once again questioning his killer instinct.
It looked like being more of the same when McIlroy fell a shot behind a resurgent Jim Furyk with just a few holes to play at Sawgrass, but a flawless finish saw him move past the 48-year-old and secure victory.
Rory killed any suggestion that he would lose his bottle once in contention. While others played carefully to avoid Sawgrass’ many water hazards, McIlroy attacked the flags and forced his way to the top of the leaderboard with pure aggression.
Golfweek’s Geoff Shackelford dubbed the St Patrick’s Day victory the second-greatest of McIlroy’s career, behind only his first major triumph (more on that later).
4. 2016 IRISH OPEN (The K Club)
The pressure was growing on McIlroy at the K Club in 2016.
Having missed the cut in each of the last three years at the Irish Open, Rory was hosting his home tournament for the first time and lost the lead to Russell Knox with three holes to play.
But a stunning eagle at the 16th pushed McIlroy back ahead, and his 252-yard approach over the water on the 18th – which was named shot of the year on the PGA Tour – sealed the dramatic victory.
Many people in the sport had questioned how much winning this event would matter to McIlroy, who had won four majors by this point and was primarily focused on competing in the US.
There was no doubt after his post-match interview, though, as he admitted he was struggling to keep his emotions in check after triumphing in front of his friends and family.
He then donated the £515,500 prize to his charity, the Rory Foundation. Class.
3. 2014 OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP (Royal Liverpool)
McIlroy and the Open weren’t a perfect fit.
The Northern Irishman angered plenty of people when he said he was “not a fan of tournaments predicted so much by the weather”.
He angered a few more when he said he wouldn’t tune his game to prepare for the Open, and would “rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”
Speaking in such a way about the world’s oldest golf tournament is considered close to blasphemy by golf purists, particularly when the comments are coming from a British superstar.
All was forgotten, though, when Rory cruised to victory at Royal Liverpool and was joined on the final green by his mother, Rosie, who was in floods of tears.
He led wire-to-wire and never looked troubled, even when Sergio Garcia pulled to within two shots.
Nothing could stop McIlroy, not even the constant heckling about his recent break-up with Caroline Wozniacki from a fan, who Rory had removed from the course on the final day.
2. 2014 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (Valhalla)
The month-long stretch from the 2014 Open to the PGA Championship was truly the summer of Rory.
McIlroy followed up his victory at Royal Liverpool by winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and then added this, his second PGA Championship triumph, to seal his place as the best player in the world.
During that dominant run of three wins from three starts, the victory at Valhalla was the most dramatic.
Rory played lights out until the lights went out, rushing to finish on the 72nd hole in almost complete darkness.
With the sun setting rapidly, he was allowed to play up alongside Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, both of whom were still in with a chance of taking the lead.
They watched on grimly as Rory made a clutch par, beating the pair of them – and the darkness – to seal what remains his last major title.
1. 2011 US OPEN (Congressional)
“Happy Father’s Day, dad. This one’s for you.”
That was Rory McIlroy’s message for his father, Gerry, as they celebrated the then-22-year-old’s first major victory.
For four years, Gerry held three jobs and worked 100 hours a week cleaning toilets and showers to help his son achieve his dream, so it was a poignant moment when they embraced after the winning putt fell.
Gerry wasn’t at Augusta when Rory blew a four-shot lead on the final day of the Masters just two months earlier, but he walked all 72 holes at Congressional as his son bounced back to destroy the field and finish eight shots clear.
McIlroy set 11 US Open records that weekend, including the lowest total score and lowest total under par.
His emergence at a young age and relationship with Nike had earned Rory comparisons with Tiger Woods even at this early stage of his career, and this was a performance the 14-time major champion would have been proud of.
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