Rory McIlroy claimed his third World Golf Championship title and fourth win this season with a hard-earned victory in the HSBC Champions as Bob MacIntyre, the sole Scot in the field, signed off his week in style in China.
McIlroy, who had started the day with a one-shot lead, edged out defending champion Xander Schauffele in a play-off at Sheshan International Golf Club after the American had birdied the last for a closing 66 to finish alongside his playing partner on 19-under-par.
Returning to the par-5 18th in the sudden-death shoot-out, Schauffele was unable to repeat the feat after finding a nasty lie off the tee and being forced to lay up, opening the door for world No 2 McIlroy to claim the title with a tap-in birdie following two majestic blows.
It was the Northern Irishman’s 27th career victory, his 14th European Tour title triumph and he also joins Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods as the only players to have won three of the four WGC events following his victories at the Bridgestone Invitational in 2014 and the Cadillac Match Play the following season.
“Xander pushed me the whole way, all 73 holes we played together this week,” said McIlroy, who is up to fifth in the Race to Dubai after a jump of 28 spots on the back of his first European Tour win since the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
“He played great. He was battling a flu all week, wasn’t feeling his best, and so the calibre of golf he played this week, it takes some doing. I don’t want to take anything away from him. He birdied the last to get into the play-off, and then I produced two of the best shots of the day when I needed it, which was really cool.
“I have one more event left in Dubai (the DP World Tour Championship). I want to finish the season off as well as I can. I really wanted to get another win before the end of the year and now that I’ve done that, it would be nice to get two wins.”
McIlroy’s earlier wins this year all came on the PGA Tour as he landed The Players Championship, the RBC Canadian Open and the Tour Championship. With this latest victory, he’s now had his most successful season since recording three victories in 2014. “I’m excited for the future,” he added, having added a closing 68 to three consecutive 67s. “I feel like this year compares to 2014, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t go ahead and have an even better year next year.”
Twelve months after pipping fellow American Tony Finau in a play-off to land the title, Schauffele had no complaints about losing out on this occasion. “He’s an elite player,” he said of McIlroy. “When he’s on, I’d say he’s arguably the best player in the world. He made me play better. I know what I need to do to become a better player.”
South African Louis Oosthuizen, the third member of the final group, finished third on 17 under, two shots clear of Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Austrian Matthias Schwab. Perez, winner of the Dunhill Links Championship last month, and Schwab both fired closing rounds of 66 in impressive WGC debuts.
Also getting his first taste of one of those events, MacIntyre finished with an eagle-3 as he closed with a 67 to finish joint-17th on nine-under. Taking dead aim at the flag after a perfect drive, the 23-year-old from Oban landed his approach on the edge of the water-guarded green and then rolled in a 25-footer.
He’d earlier birdied the second, third, seventh, where he holed an 18-foot putt, and 14th, with his only dropped shot coming at the par-4 fifth. The splendid closing effort lifted MacIntyre five spots up the leaderboard, earning him pay-day worth just under €99,500 to take his earnings for his rookie season on the European Tour to €1.673 million.
With McIlroy and Oosthuizen both jumping above him, MacIntyre dropped two spots to ninth in the Race to Dubai, which concludes with three Rolex Series events, starting with the Turkish Airlines Open at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Belek on Thursday.