ATLANTA — Whether you believe in the golf gods or not, something certainly set up the end of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season in the most compelling way possible. The year's best player and the year's most notable player ended the Tour Championship in what was effectively a match-play duel with eight figures in prize money on the line.
When it was over, Rory McIlroy beat Scottie Scheffler to put an end to a unique PGA Tour season. It marked McIlroy's 22nd career win on the Tour and his third FedExCup, an all-time record.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 28, 2022
Scheffler started the year with one of golf's all-time great victory runs, an eight-week, four-win stretch that culminated in a Masters championship in April. McIlroy took up the baton as the PGA Tour's most eloquent and outspoken defender in the face of a sudden and overwhelming LIV Golf assault. Together, the two shaped the PGA Tour for the majority of 2022, so it was only fitting that they would be the final two players standing on a season unlike any other in golf history.
Coming into Sunday's final round — which began shortly after the last holes of a rain-delayed Saturday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta— Scheffler held a six-stroke lead over the field and appeared primed to walk to a victory that would cap off a singular season.
But Scheffler bogeyed three of the first six holes right as McIlroy, his playing partner, was birdieing four of the first seven. Just like that, a six-stroke lead was gone with 11 holes still to play.
Both players settled down and played par golf for a few holes. But nothing's ever easy with McIlroy — and nothing's too hard for Scheffler, either. McIlroy bogeyed the 14th with an ugly chip, and then rolled in a titanic 32-footer for birdie that brought forth a cheer that resonated all over East Lake.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 28, 2022
On the next hole, the tension rose even higher as McIlroy flew the green but managed to save par with a seven-footer, while Scheffler missed his own nine-foot par putt. That gave McIlroy a one-stroke lead, marking the first time Scheffler hadn't held at least a share of the lead for the entire tournament. The bogey also had the potential to become the most expensive missed shot of Scheffler's career.
Golf's obsession with money ratcheted to deafening levels in the final holes of the Tour Championship, since the difference between first and second place was so vast. The winner of the Tour Championship gets an $18 million check, while the runner-up gets $6.5 million.
McIlroy's birdie putt on the 17th rolled just past the cup, while Scheffler's nine-footer never even scared the hole. Meanwhile, up ahead, Sungjae Im, who had drawn even with Scheffler at 20-under, just barely missed a birdie putt that would have given him a share of the lead.
So McIlroy and Scheffler headed to the 18th with McIlroy up a stroke on Scheffler and the in-the-clubhouse Im. The gallery following the duo was vast but, understandably, not quite to the level or intensity of the 2018 surge that followed Tiger Woods to victory. Even so, both players felt the warmth of the crowd as they put their 330-plus-yard tee shots into the fairway and prepared to hit over the titular East Lake to the clubhouse.
McIlroy didn't quite perform his signature strut down the 18th fairway, though he did casually munch on an energy bar as if he was in the middle of a practice round. Scheffler, hitting first and perhaps feeling the tension of the moment, put his approach shot into one of the greenside bunkers near the clubhouse. McIlroy didn't fare much better, curling his approach off the edge of a hospitality tent and into the thick rough beneath the tent.
Scheffler punched out of the sand and flew over the entire green, ending in an awkward downhill lie in the fringe. McIlroy, meanwhile, managed to get some relief from the edge of the tent he'd nailed, but his own approach scooted past the cup as if it were a hole in another well-known golf course in Georgia.
Scheffler left himself with a seven-footer for par. McIlroy thus had two strokes to cover 21 feet and win the Tour Championship, and with a gentle tap-in par, he clinched it.
The PGA Tour now heads into its two-week offseason facing strong headwinds — an existential threat from the LIV Golf Invitational Series, a newly empowered group of elite champions, and deep concerns from its rank-and-file, as well as tournaments and sponsors. Golf one year from now could look every bit as different as it did one year ago.
About all that's clear is that Rory McIlroy is the Tour's champion, in more ways than one.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.