The Punter's De-Brief: Marvellous McIlroy snatches FedEx glory in East Lake classic

Rory McIlroy with his trophy haul
Rory McIlroy with his trophy haul

Steve looks back on a terrific Sunday where we witnessed drama aplenty and seismic market moves on both tours. Read his customary look back at all the action here...

“We’ve now had ten FedEx Cups and Tiger Woods is still the only man to win the series twice but we’ve seen the same player win two of the four playoff series events on no less than eight occasions.”

I have to confess, on Friday evening/Saturday morning I was far from enthusiastic about last week's tournaments. Alex Levy had shot clear of the field at the weather disrupted Porsche European Open and Dustin Johnson was an odds-on jolly to take the Tour Championship. The prospect of two dull cakewalks was a distinct possibility but that's a million miles from how things transpired and we finished up being served up two potent aperitifs before this week's eagerly awaited Ryder Cup.

After a sticky start to the third and final round in Germany, Levy looked to be assuming command with four birdies in six holes after the turn and having been matched at a high of 50.049/1 before the off, the Frenchman was matched at a low of 1.051/20. Over £110,000 was matched on him at 1.152/13 and below when he led by three with just three to play but the big hitters were made to sweat heavily before they collected.

A two-shot swing on the 16th, with Levy making bogey and Ross Fisher making birdie, meant Levy needed to par in to win. He hit a brilliant tee-shot on the par three 17th but failed to convert for birdie and then made a real mess of 18. His approach shot was so wild it looked for a while as though he may have gone out of bounds and after taking a free drop he failed to find the green with his third. All of a sudden momentum had shifted completely and Fisher, who was matched before the off at 65.064/1, hit a low of 1.282/7 and Levy's price spiked to 5.04/1.

To cut a long story short, Fisher's birdie putt for victory, from around 15 feet on the 18th, somehow missed, having looked sure to drop, and Levy bravely holed for bogey from six feet or so. Both players parred the first extra hole before Levy took the title with a lengthy birdie at the second additional hole. The tournament had threatened to fizzle out but instead we were treated to a cracking finale but it was nothing compared to the climax at East Lake...

With three bogeys in four holes from the fifth to the eighth, pre-event favourite, Dustin Johnson, who had been matched at just 1.412/5 on Saturday, soon played his way out of the reckoning and we were left with what looked like a straight fight between 110.0109/1 shot, Kevin Chappell, and 55.054/1 chance, Ryan Moore.

Chappell, who was looking for his very first PGA Tour title, hit a low of 1.21/5 as he led by two strokes with two holes to play but a two-stroke swing at the 17th, with Moore making birdie and Chappell bogey, changed the complexion of the event entirely. And that was after Rory McIlroy, who was matched at a high of 40.039/1, had thrown his hat back in the ring with this stunning eagle at 16.

McIlroy went on to birdie 18 and had either Chappell or Moore matched that achievement they'd have won the tournament in regulation play but par fives were all the pair could muster and we were into extra holes for a second time.

Chappell was soon out of the reckoning after a poor drive at the first extra hole and Rory hit a low of 1.041/25 after this cracker of a shot to leave himself just six feet for eagle but it wasn't to be.

Moore, who had also missed the fairway, managed to get up-and-down for birdie and Rory missed his eagle putt. For the second time in a day, long odds-on hitters were made to suffer.

Both parred the 18th and Moore looked the most likely winner on the par three 15th when he hit a low of 1.68/13 but Rory holed a lengthy par save to take the event to a fourth extra hole, where, after Moore had saved par from around 20 feet at the 16th, Rory holed from 16 feet to take the title and the FedEx Cup.

It had been a long but magnificently entertaining day.

My Bets

Having missed the 50's about Levy on Monday I cut my nose off to spite my face and didn't back him so that was very frustrating but my each-way fancy, Bernd Wiesberger, placed and I made a few bob trading the event at the death. Fisher was too big at 5.59/2 when trailing by just a stroke with two to play and having taken that price it was simple enough to lock in a profit as the drama unfolded.

As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I backed Moore and McIlroy at halfway in the States, so having those two fighting out the playoff the tournament was always going to end nicely. I traded the event quite vigorously after first laying Moore back at around 2.56/4 at the turn last night and by the time Rory eventually won, the result was irrelevant and decent profits had been assured.

What Have We Learned For Next Year?

The Porsche European Open will remain at the Bernard Langer-designed Beckenbauer Course next year but it will be moved forward in the schedule to immediately follow the Open Championship so with a bit of luck, we'll get a dry and much more challenging course.

Given the last two editions have been played on a damp course, we might not be able to take too much from the stats but I'd still look to the big hitters to dominate.

We've now had 10 FedEx Cups and Tiger Woods is still the only man to win the series twice but we've seen the same player win two of the four playoff series events on no less than eight occasions. Like Henrik Stenson had done in 2013, Rory won both the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship and that was the second time he'd won two of the four. In 2012 he won the Deutsche Bank and the BMW Championship.

The last seven Tour Championship winners have also won the FedEx Cup and the last five winners have ranked inside the top-six on the FedEx Cup standings at the start of the week. The first five in the rankings hold their fate in their own hands so Rory, who ranked sixth, needed DJ to finish worse than solo second but he still went into the week in a very strong position and the incentive of winning the big bucks again meant a lot.

Four of the last eight winners of the Tour Championship have trailed by five strokes at halfway so a slow start can definitely be overcome (Moore was matched at 250.0249/1 in-running) and accuracy off the tee is key. The rough at East Lake is always demanding and it was his inability to find the fairways that finally caught up with Johnson.

My each way fancy, Si-Woo Kim, was adversely affected by the withdrawal of his playing partner, Jason 'sick-note' Day, midway through the second round but he finished the event well and clearly took to the venue so that's another reason to link form at Sedgefield Country Club - home of the Wyndham Championship. The Korean won there this year and the runner-up, Moore, took the title in 2009. There are countless examples of players faring well at both Donald Ross tracks and that's a link I'll be keen to explore again in 2017.

And finally, switching the nines at East Lake was a master stroke. Having the event finish with a par three was quirky but finishing with a par five always creates drama and the 16th played its part in the drama too.

Golf has lost a legend but gained a legacy

After such an enthralling and satisfying Sunday, it was sad to wake up to the news that Arnold Palmer had passed away and you have to wonder whether we'd have witnessed any of it were it not for The King. This piece written by Iain Carter in March touches on what the great man did for the game and is well worth a read.

After the joy of Rory's win and the sadness of Palmer's death, we move on to Hazeltine for the Ryder Cup on Friday and I'll be back later with my preview but check out our dedicated Ryder Cup page here were there's already plenty of great content to get stuck into.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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