10/18/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/18/2021 07:06
What happens in Vegas, mostly stays in Vegas. For Rory McIlroy, he hopes what happened in Vegas stays with him throughout the season. The 2016 and 2019 FedEx Cup champion opened his 2021-22 PGA TOUR campaign with a one-shot victory over Collin Morikawa at THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT. It was McIlroy's 20th PGA TOUR victory, a significant benchmark in a great career.
For much of the weekend, McIlroy found himself going shot-for-shot with Rickie Fowler, who was coming off his own sluggish season. Fowler held his first 54-hole lead in almost three years and may have turned a page on his game. While Fowler's game dried out Sunday, it was a refreshing sight seeing orange again late on a Sunday.
1. Rory McIlroy Gets Win No. 20
Three weeks ago, Rory McIlroy was in tears, disappointed with his play at the Ryder Cup. This week, he celebrated winning the CJ CUP title over a loaded field in Las Vegas.
McIlroy entered the weekend at 9 under, nine shots back of second-round leader Keith Mitchell. But McIlroy fired a bogey-free 62 on Saturday, capped off with an eagle on 18, to climb within two strokes of new leader Rickie Fowler.
On the par-5 14th, McIlroy pulled out a Texas wedge from just inside 35 feet and knocked in an eagle to get to 25 under. Moments later, Collin Morikawa, a member at The Summit Club, made his own eagle on 18 to get into the clubhouse at 24 under. Morikawa shot 62 on Sunday, including a 29 on the front nine.
McIlroy, who used less than driver on much of his back nine Sunday, made par on each of his final four holes to finish off a one-shot victory.
"There was a lot of reflection the last couple weeks and this is what I need to do," McIlroy says of his process since the Ryder Cup. "I just need to play golf, I need to simplify it, I need to just be me. I think for the last few months I was maybe trying to be someone else to try to get better and I sort of realized that being me is enough and being me, I can do things like this."
The CJ CUP is win No. 20 on the PGA TOUR for the 32-year-old McIlroy, making him the 39th player to accomplish the feat. He is now guaranteed lifetime membership on the PGA TOUR, beginning at the conclusion of his 15th season, the 2022-23 campaign.
Per Justin Ray of Twenty First Group, McIlroy is the sixth player to win 20 PGA TOUR titles, including four majors, before age 33. The others: Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.
"I didn't know if it was going to be this week, but I knew if I just kept my head down and kept playing well and doing the right things, eventually I'd get there," McIlroy says. "I've been close to starting my season with a win before. I think I finished second or third like eight times, so to get a win, it's great. It feels really good, some validation of what I've done the last few weeks and just keep moving forward."
McIlroy was the No. 1 player in the world before the COVID-19 pandemic paused the golf world in March 2020. He'd recorded seven consecutive worldwide top-5s, was coming off his second FedExCup title season and was in the midst of defending his title at THE PLAYERS.
Since the restart, McIlroy had only posted three top-5s on the PGA TOUR before this week, one of those being his title at the Wells Fargo Championship last year. He dropped to as low as No. 15 in the world rankings for the first time since 2009.
But with a win to open up the 2021-22 season, maybe the tide is turning again for McIlroy. A new season brings a new Rory, and that player is now No. 4 in the FedExCup.
2. Rickie Returns To Form
If McIlroy got out of a slump, fellow 32-year-old Rickie Fowler recovered from a two-season nightmare this week.
Fowler recorded just one top-10 (T8 at this year's PGA Championship) between the Farmers Insurance Open in January 2020 and the conclusion of the 2021 season. His world ranking dropped from as high as No. 7 in 2019 to as low as No. 128 after missing the cut at last week's Shriners Children's Open. He missed the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time in his career and needed a sponsor's exemption to play the CJ CUP.
For three rounds at The Summit Club, Fowler gave fans a glimpse of his old self. After opening with a pair of 66s, Fowler fired a bogey-free, 9-under 63 on Saturday to take the lead by two shots over McIlroy. The 54-hole lead was his first on the PGA TOUR since his last victory, at the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
He could only manage a 1-under 71 on a low-scoring Sunday, however, and finished T3 with Keith Mitchell. The finish was Fowler's first top-3 since a T2 at the 2019 Honda Classic.
"It felt good to finally hit the golf ball properly, at least most of the time, for 72 holes," Fowler said.
As noted by Golf Channel's Will Gray, Fowler, who did not qualify for The Masters or the U.S. Open last season, still has to remain consistent to get into other high-profile events. The 2015 PLAYERS Championship winner is not currently guaranteed a spot in the 2022 field.
Fowler gets right back at it in just a few days, as he is in the field for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan. Fowler's grandfather Yutaka Tanaka is Japanese and Fowler credits Yutaka for getting him into the game of golf.
3. Keith Mitchell's Almost Flawless Week
Keith Mitchell set The Summit Club ablaze through 36 holes. He was 18 under and held a 5-shot lead through two rounds, both tournament records.
Through six holes on Saturday, Mitchell had three birdies and one bogey, reaching 20-under and seemed on cruise control. But sometimes, golf becomes golf, and Mitchell carded back-to-back double-bogeys on the 8th and 9th holes to drop out of the lead -- a lead he would never again hold sole possession of. Only three players shot worse than Mitchell's third-round 73.
Mitchell rebounded with a 5-under 67 on Sunday to salvage a T3 and validate his play earlier in the week. The result follows up some strong play by Mitchell last season, as he earned top-10s at the Wells Fargo Championship, 3M Open and The Northern Trust.
Before the tournament, McIlroy, who needed to come from behind to beat Mitchell at the Wells Fargo Championship, used Mitchell to illustrate the depth on the TOUR. Then Mitchell proved McIlroy's point.
"People wouldn't maybe pick a Keith Mitchell to win a tournament at the start of a week, but you play with him in a final round on a Sunday, he stopped me in my tracks," McIlroy says. "I was like, he is a hell of a player."
And it was more than just Mitchell this week. Talor Gooch, still seeking his first PGA TOUR win, slammed in a final-round 62 to finish at T5 and move to No. 8 in the Comcast Business Rewards TOUR TOP 10. He also is on the cusp of cracking the top 50 in the world ranking. Sam Burns, winner of the recent Sanderson Farms Championship, was right there with Gooch, posting four rounds of 68 or better for a T5, and 2018 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Aaron Wise also landed at T5. Harry Higgs, Mitchell's famous playing partner against Phil Mickelson and Joel Dahmen at Liberty National, was nearby at T9.
The next group of 20-something-year-olds is always on the way.
4. New And Old Korean Players Make Noise
While the first three CJ Cup events were held at Nine Bridges in South Korea, the 2021 edition was the second straight held in the Las Vegas area due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With that said, the 78-player no-cut field included both familiar and unfamiliar Korean faces, both of which impressed at The Summit Club.
SeongHyeon Kim is a name PGA TOUR fans should bookmark after this week. Kim opened with scores of 68 and 63, putting him in the final group on Saturday with Mitchell and Jordan Spieth. The 23-year-old caught the double-bogey bug with Mitchell, posting a six on the par-4 9th hole that day and faded from the pack, ultimately finishing T32.
For Kim, who has three professional wins, including the 2021 Japan PGA Championship, this is only the beginning of his career in the U.S. Last month, Kim earned co-medalist honors with viral sensation Michael Visacki at the first stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School in Winter Garden, Florida. He will go right from playing with Spieth to playing for his Korn Ferry Tour card at second stage.
Meanwhile, one week after his win at the Shriners Children's Open, Sungjae Im notched top Korean honors at T9. Im posted scores of 67 and 64 on the weekend and has three top-10 finishes in his last five PGA TOUR events.
Im was followed by K.H. Lee at T25, Kim at T32, Sung Kang at T32 and Joohyung Kim at T49 as the top five Koreans. Joohyung Kim is just 19 and already has six professional wins, including two on the Korean Tour and one on the Asian Tour.
5. Abraham Ancer Angles In Albatross
After a 300-yard drive on the par-5 14th hole Friday, Abraham Ancer left himself 249 yards in...like, into the hole.