Rory McIlroy won the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday to claim his first PGA Tour title for 16 months, all that happening a week after he changed his putter and putting coach.
“I knew my game was in good shape, I just needed to do something with the putting,” said McIlroy. “I found something. I still need to keep going with it, it’s definitely not the finished article, but it’s a big step in the right direction.”
The Northern Irishman started six shots behind overnight leader Paul Casey, but seven birdies in a six-under-par 65 saw him finish two shots clear at 15 under. England’s Casey, 39, missed an eagle putt on the final hole at TPC Boston that would have forced a play-off. It was 27-year-old McIlroy’s first tournament win since the Irish Open in May and first PGA title since May 2015.
“I’m excited with how my game is and what I’ve found this week, and hopefully I can keep it going for the next couple of tournaments, but ultimately into the Ryder Cup.”
The Deutsche Bank Championship is the second of the four that make up the season-ending FedEx Cup. McIlroy will rise 34 places to fourth in the FedEx Cup standings – and nearer the $10m prize for the winner – as a result of his victory.
The competition features the top 100 players in the world. The leading 70 after last weekend progress to next week’s BMW Championship, where the field will be reduced to 30 for the Tour Championship on 22-25 September.
McIlroy’s immediate focus is on the BMW Championship, which started at Crooked Stick, Indiana, yesterday. Suddenly, a hitherto low-key year could end in the most positive of styles if he wins the FedEx Cup and the small matter of the Ryder Cup follows on September 30th.
“I feel excitement more than relief,” McIlroy said. “I wasn’t getting impatient, I wasn’t searching for things. I know I hadn’t won on the PGA Tour in a while but over the past 12 months I’ve still had three wins worldwide.
“This was obviously the biggest of those three but I knew my game was in good shape, I just needed to do something with the putting. I found something. I still need to keep going with it. It’s definitely not the finished article but it’s a big step in the right direction.”
Phil Kenyon, who also tutors the Open champion Henrik Stenson, has recently taken on the role of McIlroy’s putting coach. “I looked at all the guys Phil works with and none of them looked the same,” McIlroy said. “They all putt differently, they all have their different mannerisms, so I knew Phil wasn’t going to have me get into a certain position I didn’t want to be in or felt uncomfortable with.”
“He was more: ‘You figure it out yourself a little bit, but this is what you need to do, this is where you need the putter to be at certain points in your stroke, and then just figure out a way to do it.’ He just lets us figure it out in our own ways and that’s the one thing I really liked about him.”
History is now on McIlroy’s side. When he last won the Deutsche Bank four years ago, he proceeded to lift another trophy at Crooked Stick. “The course may play a little bit different this year, it mightn’t be quite as wet and I know they made a few changes,” McIlroy said. “But it was a great leaderboard four years ago. Lee Westwood was up there, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott. I remember a lot about that week, I have positive vibes going back there.”
McIlroy also chose Monday’s victory as a platform to hit out at critics of his gym routine and insisted that suggestions that he spends too much time working on his fitness are “unfair”.
The 27-year-old believes his workload in the gym has been “a big part of my success”, and he is adamant that keeping as fit as possible will keep him playing at the highest level for many years to come.
“I think when people make judgements or criticisms without being educated on the subject that they’re criticising, I think that’s like for me getting in the gym, for example, that’s my pet peeve. Someone that says to me you’re in the gym too much. The reason I play at such a high level, and hopefully will continue to play at a high level for the next 10 to 15 years, is because of the work I do in the gym. If I wasn’t in the gym, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. It’s a big part of who I am, it’s a big part of my success. That’s always I feel an unfair criticism.”
“But with my game, the critics and the analysts and everyone that are out there, they’re educated about golf, so they for the most part know what they’re talking about”, commented McIlroy.