ATLANTA — Back on Thursday, his scorecard a shambles after only two holes at the Tour Championship, Rory McIlroy did not find himself thinking about golf’s comeback magicians, or his fellow major champions, or even a man old enough to drink in the United States.
He considered the example of a 20-year-old player, Joohyung Kim, also known as Tom Kim, who won the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., this month.
“He started with a quad and ended up going on to win the golf tournament,” McIlroy, who had opened his Tour Championship with a triple-bogey and a bogey, said then. “It is possible.”
So McIlroy proved it himself: Three days after he produced an instant debacle at East Lake Golf Club and six weeks after he faltered at the British Open, he captured the Tour Championship on Sunday, when he assumed the lead only after the 16th hole finally went quiet.
McIlroy’s surge on the par-70 course not far from downtown Atlanta — he shot 67, 67, 63 and 66 across his four rounds — upended Scottie Scheffler’s ambitions for the FedEx Cup and closed one of the most turbulent PGA Tour seasons in history.
By the final holes on Sunday evening, the tour’s worries about crowning a champion who might soon defect to LIV Golf, the new series that has challenged generations of golf orthodoxy and attracted some of the game’s finest players and biggest brands, had faded. But the victory by McIlroy, who has won more FedEx Cup titles (three) than any other golfer, allowed the tour to celebrate a player who has become one of the old order’s most forceful stalwarts, if one who has lately been disappointed on some of the game’s biggest stages.
McIlroy lurked all through Sunday, his threat to Scheffler, the world’s top-ranked golfer and the tournament leader until the evening, vivid after he birdied the final two holes of the third round that had been suspended because of weather.
McIlroy’s fourth round began with a bogey, but he made birdie on No. 3 to bring his score even for the day. Starting with the fifth hole, he stitched together three consecutive birdies that would undergird a 32 on the front nine. Scheffler, McIlroy’s partner in the final pairing, had three bogeys in the first half of the fourth round.
There were moments when it appeared that McIlroy could stumble again, like on the 14th hole, where a bogey made it seem like Scheffler could still hold on in his quest for the $18 million top prize and the FedEx Cup.
Then came No. 15, where McIlroy lined up a 31-foot putt. He tapped the ball and then stood like a statue, his putter barely aloft as the ball broke to the left. Then it swung toward the hole, McIlroy stepping back — and willing, praying, something — a few steps before it rolled into the cup. He raised his right fist in jubilation.
“I really fought hard today — Rory just played a really good round of golf,” Scheffler said. “He made some key putts there at the end, and he definitely deserved to win.”
Scheffler finished in a tie for second with Sungjae Im, one of golf’s most promising young players. Xander Schauffele was two strokes behind them, and Max Homa and Justin Thomas finished tied for fifth, trailing McIlroy by four strokes.