Having arrived at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club six shots behind top seed Scottie Scheffler, the Northern Irishman trailed by the same margin heading into the deciding day. Yet as World No. 1 Scheffler suffered a joint-round worst three-over 73, McIlroy carded a 66 to edge the American and South Korean Im Sung-jae by a single stroke at 21-under.
It marked the largest final-round comeback in Tour Championship history, besting Colombian Camilo Villegas’ five-shot recovery in 2008. Only Justin Thomas and Sam Burns overturned larger deficits on the Tour all season, winning from seven shots back at the PGA Championship and the Charles Schwab Challenge respectively.
After FedEx Cup victories in 2016 and 2019, triumph at East Lake sees McIlroy edge clear of Tiger Woods – winner of the inaugural event in 2007 – as the only player to have secured the title three times.
“It’s really cool to do something in golf that no one has ever done before,” McIlroy told reporters.
“Obviously, the history of the FedEx Cup isn’t as long as the history of some other tournaments, but to be walking out of here three times a champion, it’s very, very satisfying and something that I’m incredibly proud of.”
McIlroy was rewarded with $18 million in prize money for his 22nd PGA Tour victory, ensuring a triumphant end to a stellar season tinged with major disappointment.
With wins at the CJ Cup and the Canadian Open, the 33-year-old consistently impressed with 10 top-10 results across 16 events. Nowhere was this form more evident than at the majors, where McIlroy finished no worse than eighth across the four events.
Yet having finished runner-up at the Masters in April and agonizingly letting victory slip through his grasp at the 150th Open Championship in July, McIlroy’s superb form did not reap the fifth major triumph he has been chasing since victory at the PGA Championship in 2014.
With McIlroy comparing the campaign to 2019, where he also recorded three Tour wins, caddy Harry Diamond believed it was a fitting end to the season.
“On the 18th green today, [Harry] goes, ‘All the good golf you played this year, you deserve this,’” McIlroy said.
“I’ve said all along this year, this season felt very, very similar to 2019. I played great golf. I had some good wins but didn’t pick off a major.”
For Scheffler, narrow defeat marked a painful end to a phenomenal season in which triumph at the Masters headlined four wins and 11 top-10 finishes on the Tour.
Opening with a 65 and two 66’s, the American’s triumph had looked set to be a procession before three bogeys through the first six holes Sunday opened the door for McIlroy, who – despite opening with a bogey – responded with a trio of birdies through the same run.
A superb birdie putt from McIlroy at the 15th followed by a bogey from Scheffler at the subsequent hole proved decisive, as the Northern Irishman tapped home at the last to win with par. After a brief celebratory fist pump, McIlroy went straight over to embrace Scheffler.
“Scottie Scheffler is going to win the Player of the Year, there’s no doubt about that. It would have been fitting for him to end his breakout season with a FedEx Cup title,” McIlroy said.
“He deserves this maybe more than I deserve it, he played an unbelievable season. He didn’t have his best stuff today, and I played well and took advantage of that.
“It’s hard. You don’t really know what to say on the 18th green because he’s had such a great year, but he’ll be back and he’s a great player, and I told him this certainly isn’t the last time that we’re going to have these battles on the golf course.”
Despite his disappointment, Scheffler was similarly gracious in defeat.
“I really fought hard today. Rory just played a really good round of golf. He made some key putts there at the end, and he definitely deserved to win,” he said.
“I’ve had a really great year and I wanted to finish it off with a win here, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that. But at the end of the day, it’s such a gift to be out here playing golf for money, and I’m just so thankful to be out here.”