Rory McIlroy saves his best until last and takes flight with an eagle at World Tour Championship

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Rory McIlroy saves his best shot of the year for the final tournament - a glorious three-wood to set up an eagle on 18 - AFP
Rory McIlroy saves his best shot of the year for the final tournament - a glorious three-wood to set up an eagle on 18 - AFP

Rory McIlroy has flushed enough shots in 2019 to amass more than £20m in on-course earnings, but the world No2 believes he saved his finest strike until his very last event. 

“Honestly, that three-wood on the 18th was possibly the best shot I’ve hit all year,” McIlroy said here. And everybody who was witness to the magnificence would not disagree.

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Certainly, there are few players in this or any other generation who, with one beautifully rhythmic motion, who could have caused so many jaws to hit desert turf.

From 291 yards, McIlroy took on the par-five green and carried his ball approximately 285 yards over water and between bunker to bring it to rest within 5ft on the Earth Course’s concluding par five. The resulting eagle handed him a 64 and at eight-under in the DP World Tour Championship he is just one off the pace set by Mike Lorenzo-Vera.

However, with respect to the talented Frenchman and, indeed, to those in pursuit of the season-long Race To Dubai crown, the crowd’s conversation was monopolised by the 5ft 8in Northern Irishman with the hips that truly must be double-jointed. In moments such as this, it is easy to understand exactly why he is the favourite of so many and the fact that he felt the joy of the moment as much as anyone, somehow makes him yet more endearing.

<span>Mike Lorenzo-Vera holds a one-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy</span> <span>Credit: ALI HAIDER/EPA-EFE/REX </span>
Mike Lorenzo-Vera holds a one-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy Credit: ALI HAIDER/EPA-EFE/REX

"The wind was off the left so it was a nice one for me to just aim straight at the pin and know if I hit my little draw it should hold,” he said, his grin ever-widening. "But if it gets going on the wind, obviously the bunker on the right is better than the water on the left. I carry my three-wood off the deck about 280 yards, so it was right on the limit. But as soon as I hit it, I knew it was perfect. It must be ranked right up there, in the best shots of my entire career.”

McIlroy is frightening in this mood. At sixth in the standings, he cannot top the order of merit to win a fourth Harry Vardon Trophy, but he can play a big hand in where it ends up. Bernd Wiesberger is at the head of the rankings, but after a two-under 70, the Austrian may feel exposed by Jon Rahm on six-under and Tommy Fleetwood on five-under. 

The Spaniard and Englishman could both overhaul Wiesberger to scoop the $2m (£1.55m) bonus on Sunday but their task will be made much trickier if McIlroy wins the tournament proper. And after collecting his fourth title of the campaign on his most recent start in Shanghai, three weeks ago, McIlroy is overloaded with confidence. He also has the ideal spot for yet another trophy.

“We only moved into our new house [in Floirida] a couple of months ago and when I went away to China the trophy cabinet had not been built,” McIlroy, 30, said. “But when I got back on a high after the win, Erica [his wife] had a lovely surprise. I walked into the game-room and there the cabinet was, up on all the wall and containing all of my  trophies. 

“That stuff had been in storage for 18 months, so it was the first time I had seen the Claret Jug and US Open trophy and everything for a while. It was cool, but it was also a great motivator to look at it, stand back and think: ‘You know, I'm still pretty early in my career and I've done a lot but I still want to do so much more.'”

Should the builders be primed for a quick extension? “Not yet,” McIlroy replied. “But I do hope they will have to one day soon.”

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