ATLANTA — Rory McIlroy finally won the FedEx Cup when he least expected it.
McIlroy was three shots behind with three holes to play Sunday in the Tour Championship. Nearly two hours later, he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the fourth extra hole to win the tournament and claim the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.
“I took advantage of my opportunities today and yeah, here we are,” McIlroy said, his voice hoarse from screaming over so many quality shots and big moments.
In its 10th year, the FedEx Cup never had a finish like this.
McIlroy fittingly won on the 16th hole, where his remarkable rally began in regulation when he holed out from 137 yards for eagle, and then made birdie on the final hole for a 6-under 64 to join a three-man playoff with Ryan Moore (64) and Kevin Chappell (66).
Moore had an 8-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win and it caught the lip and spun out. Chappell had a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole to win and left it short.
They finished at 12-under 268.
Dustin Johnson surprisingly was never a factor and he hit too many errant shots on the front nine and never recovered, closing with a 73. Johnson, however, still would have won the FedEx Cup if either Moore or Chappell had won the tournament.
McIlroy had control of this all along. He looked to put the perfect finish onto his big day when he hit over the water to 6 feet for an eagle putt on the par-5 18th in the first playoff hole. Moore, however, holed a 10-footer for birdie. McIlroy was ready to pump his fist until his eagle putt slid by, and he removed his cap in disbelief.
Returning to the 18th, McIlroy missed an 18-foot birdie putt for the win. On the third extra hole, the par-3 15th over the water from 201 yards, McIlroy had to make a 7-foot par putt just to stay in the game.
Nothing was bigger than that birdie at the end. McIlroy stiffened his back, clutched both arms and shouted above the raucous cheers at East Lake. He earned a total of $11.53 million on Sunday, including $1.53 million for the Tour Championship. It was the 13th victory
At the start of the month, he had not won all year on the PGA Tour. He won the Deutsche Bank Championship three weeks ago, and then needed a little bit of help from Johnson to capture the FedEx Cup.
The consolation prize for Moore might be a trip to Hazeltine National for the Ryder Cup.
The American team decided to wait until after the Tour Championship for Davis Love III to make his fourth and final captain’s pick. Moore, who won the John Deere Classic last month, showed all the qualities of a Ryder Cup player on Sunday, right to the very end.
Moore looked as though he would make it easy on McIlroy on the 16th in the playoff when his chip over a mound ran some 15 feet by the hole. He had to putt for par before McIlroy made birdie, and Moore drained it to force McIlroy to make his.
Love was to announce his pick later Sunday at halftime of the NFL game.
It was the longest playoff in the 30-year history of the Tour Championship.
For Johnson, it was the difference of $7 million with McIlroy winning. Johnson finished second in the FedEx Cup and received $3 million.
And it was more heartache for Chappell, who had his fourth runner-up finish this year. He twice was runner-up to Jason Day, and once to McIlroy. Chappell’s closing rounds in those runner-up finishes were 67, 69, 69 and 66.
He had a two-shot lead with two holes to play when his tee shot found the nasty rough on the 17th and he made bogey — only his third of the week — and he failed to birdie the 18th.
“Played those two holes in 10. Probably not going to win too often,” Chappell said. “I gave it all I had and got some good breaks, got some bad breaks there the last couple holes. But I’m proud of the way I fought. It just wasn’t enough.”