ATLANTA (AP) — Rory McIlroy found his ball submerged in deep rough, next to a fence that separates the course from the driving range at East Lake. He jumped up and down, trying to see over a holly bush that obscured his view of the ninth green.
This wasn’t a familiar position for the world’s best golfer.
It summed up a frustrating finish to the PGA Tour season.
Having won the last two major championships and poised for a big-money triumph at the Tour Championship, McIlroy faded from contention with a brutal six-hole stretch Sunday, leaving him three shots behind winner Billy Horschel in the finale of the FedEx Cup playoff.
Horschel celebrated the most prestigious victory of his career by doing the “Gator Chomp,” while McIlroy was looking forward to a much-needed break before the Ryder Cup.
In hindsight, he should’ve taken a week off in the middle of the playoff.
“I am tired,” McIlroy said. “Not physically. I’ve been in the gym every day this week and that’s fine, but mentally I’m a little fatigued.”
The disappointment at East Lake did nothing to take away from McIlroy’s stellar year. He won both the British Open and the PGA Championship, sandwiched around his first World Golf Championship title at Firestone. He reclaimed the world’s No. 1 ranking and, with Tiger Woods’ future up in the air, became the undisputed face of the game.
McIlroy’s not done, either.
The Ryder Cup begins in less than two weeks at Gleneagles. He’s the star of the European team.
“It’s still been a great season for me, and there’s still a little bit of golf left,” McIlroy said. “I’ll get back at it next weekend and get ready for the Ryder Cup.”
He started the final round tied for the lead with Horschel, who went ahead for good with an 18-foot putt for his second straight birdie at the 531-yard fifth hole, the longest par-4 on the course.
McIlroy’s troubles began at the next hole with an ugly swing off the tee, his right hand flying off the club as he watched his ball splash in the water left of the green. After hitting again from the drop zone, he missed a 10-foot putt and walked away from the par-3 hole with a double-bogey on his card.
A wild drive at the 601-yard ninth forced McIlroy to hit a provisional, but his ball was found alongside the driving range. Hemmed in by the trees and those holly bushes, there wasn’t much he could do except rely on a swing and a prayer. The ball caught a limb and dropped behind a camera truck, and McIlroy wound up making bogey on a hole where he hoped to make up some ground.
“There was no other option, really, than just to take a chance,” he said.
Going to the back side, McIlroy was four shots behind Horschel and all but done. Two more bogeys at 10 and 11 finished him off, though he did rally for three straight birdies starting at the 15th to finish tied with Jim Furyk in the runner-up spot.
“At least finished the day respectably,” McIlroy said.
Horschel avoided any big mistakes, his lone bogey coming at the 10th. He closed with a 2-under 68 for an 11-under 269 total, claiming golf’s richest payoff with an unprecedented run through the playoffs.
He was No. 69 when the postseason began a month ago. No one had ever claimed the FedEx Cup starting lower than 19th, but Horschel was a runner-up in Boston, and won at Denver and Atlanta. A guy who had $4.5 million in career earnings coming into the year collected $11.4 million in one day — most of it the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.
“I was able to rise to the occasion and get the job done,” the 27-year-old Horschel said.
Just not in time to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which was announced two weeks ago. The Americans will have to get by without the hottest player in the game.
“I still don’t feel like I deserve to be on the team,” said Horschel, who shot in the 60s his last dozen rounds. “I haven’t played good enough this year.”
He was content to celebrate in a style befitting a guy who attended the University of Florida.
Of course, doing the Chomp didn’t go over well in Georgia. For the first time all day, Horschel heard a smattering of boos.
He didn’t mind a bit.
“I just wanted them to know,” Horschel said, breaking into a big smile, “that a University of Florida Gator came into Georgia Bulldog country and was able to come out victoriously.”
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