It was a victory worth $2m but for Rory McIlroy, his fourth professional triumph in the unofficial Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters was priceless.
Leaving aside the future financial well-being for his newly forged relationship with Horizon Sports Management - (the agency that didn’t poach the goose that lays the golden eggs?) - the 22-year old US Open champion’s win over American Anthony Kim at the first extra hole of a sudden-death play-off will stand to him when there is more on the line that mere money.
As UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders liked to say: “Winning isn’t everything - it’s the only thing.”
Often criticised for his inability to turn his stunning consistency into victories, the pride of Holywood steadied himself after a wobbly final round that saw him lose his three-stroke overnight lead and come from behind to lift the trophy.
“It’s something that I feel I can get better at: winning and putting yourself in the position to win when you’re not playing your best,” said McIlroy, who finished on 18 under par after a closing 72. “Even if it’s scrappy golf, where you grind it out, you’re going to win a lot more tournaments by doing that. I was very happy I was able to pull this one out.”
Learning to win is McIlroy’s greatest challenge now and Sunday’s victory will have put an extra spring in the step of a player who counted two previous sudden-death play-offs defeats among his six career runner-up finishes on the European Tour.
This time he made no mistake as he captured the biggest cheque of his career - and the biggest in golf. Girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki was supposed to be watching it all from a skybox at the 18th but tweeted that she only heard the result when she landed in Shanghai.
There was certainly no shortage of drama before McIlroy and Kim visited greenside sand at the first extra hole. Kim missing from three feet before McIlroy holed from just two feet to take the whopping first place cheque
As the Associated Press reported:
There were echoes of McIlroy’s stunning collapse at the Masters earlier this year when he sprayed shots all over the course and surrendered a four-shot lead in the final round at Augusta on his way to an 80.
After three rounds of relatively mistake-free golf in Shanghai, McIlroy hit into the water and bunkers, and missed several close putts. But this time, he was able to turn it around.
His troubles started on the first hole when he hit the pin with his approach shot, causing the ball to bounce back into the fringe and leading to a bogey. Kim was able to quickly make up the difference, sinking three birdies to pull into a share of the lead at 18-under on the sixth hole.
“I felt good standing on the first tee obviously with a three-shot lead,” McIlroy said. “I thought my second shot was very good. It was just a little unfortunate to hit the pin and ricochet back off the green. To go from three ahead to one ahead after the first hole was obviously not the start I was looking for.”
The American missed an easy putt from 5 feet to take bogey himself and remain one shot back at the turn.
McIlroy’s struggles continued on the back nine. The Northern Irishman hit into the bunker on the 11th and then three-putted for another bogey — his third of the day — to give Kim sole possession of the lead at 18-under.
After hitting into the bunker again and barely salvaging par on the 14th, McIlroy finally got a break on the 15th hole when he made a 5-footer for birdie and Kim missed from the same distance to even the score again.
McIlroy had a chance to take the lead on the 17th, but just missed his birdie putt. Then, on the final hole, he missed the putt that would have given him the victory.
Padraig Harrington had weekend rounds of 73 and 72 to finish tied for ninth and take home $81,833 as well as an undisclosed appearance fee.
While McIlroy headed across the city to compete in this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions, Harrington has not qualified and jetted home instead to rest before a two or three week run in Asia that he hopes will secure his place in the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
By skipping the Andalucia Masters, where a win would have earned him a spot in the HSBC Champions’ field, Harrington fell one place to 71st in the Race to Dubai standings and is now €55,363 outside the top 60 who will qualify for the Dubai World Championship.