Published: Mon, March 18, 2019
Sport | By Kayla Schwartz

Players Championship leaderboard 2019 | Jason Day three shots from lead

Players Championship leaderboard 2019 | Jason Day three shots from lead

Rory McIlroy made two late birdies amid the wild theatrics of Sunday at The Players Championship and closed with a 2-under 70 to win the next best thing to a major.

The Augusta National starts on April 11 and McIlroy will be aiming to match Woods who remains the only player to have won both the Players Championship and the Masters in the same calendar year, which the American achieved back in 2001.

"I nearly liked today because it was tough", McIlroy said. "It's just another step in the journey".

Only five players have won the modern era career Grand Slam of Open Championship, US Open, Masters and US PGA Championship - Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tiger Woods and Jack Niclaus.

While they fretted over his inability to convert that string of promising positions, they questioned everything from the Northern Irishman's mental state, ability to putt, work ethic and choice of caddie.

Perhaps most importantly, the recent history of trying but failing in golf tournaments across the world proved to be a product of patience rather than panic, as McIlroy notched a big victory on Sunday. His victory caps a run of six consecutive PGA Tour events where his worst finish has been a share of sixth place. Without trophies, frequent top finishes have a way of steering conversations toward, 'Why can't he close?' Even for four-time major champions.

"I can take a lot from this".

That nothing around McIlroy is ever linear was endorsed once more on Sunday.

Then, McIlroy hit the longest drive of the round on the par-5 16th, leaving him a 9-iron from a good lie in the rough to set up a two-shot birdie and the lead.

McIlroy's birdies on Nos. But a great finish at the start of the Florida swing to tie for ninth moved him high enough in the FedEx Cup to get into the strongest field in golf at the last minute. With water and certain death left, the bailout is the right trees, where there aren't many pars to be made.

"Some golf shot there", Harry Diamond, his caddie and best friend, said as the ball was in the air. That week, he had a chance to win but was uncomfortable with the tee shot on 18, before committing completely to his trademark free-swinging, full release philosophy.

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"I just need to hit fairways and greens". He holed a 30-foot birdie putt on No 8 after McIlroy tapped in for his birdie, and then picked up four birdies where they were available for his 70.

"I've been disciplined this year in not reading a lot of stuff about myself", he stated, "so that has helped because I haven't read any of the negativity or anything that - and obviously I know that it's going to happen because of who I am and what I've done in the past or whatever, but I really have left each tournament happy". "And any time I have a tough tee shot, I stand up, I pick my target, and I swing as hard as I can". It's taken me a few weeks to get to this point but I feel like I'm playing some of the best golf of my life right now and I just need to keep going with it and keep doing the same things.

He shot 76 and finished equal 12th on 11-under. Fleetwood has failed to come through for the second week in a row after taking a four-shot co-lead into the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Jon Rahm tosses a ball to fans after finishing a splendid third round at TPC Sawgrass.

One stroke behind McIlroy, Jim Furyk finished Sunday with a 67.

Forever a prodigious talent, consistency had escaped McIlroy throughout his career.

"It's a massive win on a course (where) I've had mixed results". "And I think that has been the key this week". "It's been having a focus over the last six or seven months on my attitude, especially my attitude to golf", he revealed.

'One thing that I used to do in the past is let what I shot that day influence who I was or my mood.

Given the nature of this golf course - and a forecast for a different wind - the fun might just be starting.

Rory McIlroy at 18 today on his way to a one-shot win. It looks great on my resume.

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