McIlroy put beatdown on all Match Play challengers

SAN FRANCISCO -- If there was ever any doubt about Rory McIlroy claiming another World Golf Championship title, it ended on Saturday night after a long day of golf in which he was disappointed to not jet off to Las Vegas for the big title fight.

With an early-morning tee time and no other options, McIlroy stayed at Harding Park and sat down to watch Floyd Mayweather's 12-round victory -- in the media center.

His agent, Sean O'Flaherty, ordered a few pizzas, Rory took a seat in a small interview room with a bunch of tournament operations staff and media members and viewed the fight he had paid big money to see in person on a small screen TV.

Talk about good vibes.

It would be difficult to describe the vast difference between sitting at ringside in glitzy Las Vegas with all manner of athletes and entertainers for such a hyped sporting event compared to having to do so in a chilly media room with a bunch of golf writers. Lamborghini to Yugo, perhaps? Ritz-Carlton to Super 8? Morton's to Waffle House?

There had to be some payback for "lowering" himself in such a manner, and McIlroy took whatever goodwill that brought him and posted an impressive WGC-Cadillac Match Play victory.

"I am a big believer in karma," McIlroy said after dispatching Gary Woodland 4 and 2 in the finals. "Obviously I think I give myself a much better chance of watching it in here than trying to make it to Vegas, that's for sure."

McIlroy might not quite buy the idea that hanging out with a few media types might have rubbed off in a good way.

But his desire to attend the fight was among the storylines for the No. 1-ranked player in the world, and you might understand if he wanted to do something for himself -- his 26th birthday is Monday -- rather than endure the cold temperatures and long days that came with the Match Play event.

And yet, McIlroy always qualified his comments by saying that performing in this tournament was ultimately more important.

"I think World Golf Championships are very important to us as players," he said. "They're a group of events where you get the best group of players in the world. This ranks right up (there.) I rank it just below the majors, just like I did with my victory at Akron [the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational] last year. These World Golf Championship trophies are nice to look at in your trophy cabinet. It will be going in there right next to the one I won at Bridgestone last year."

To do so, McIlroy played 121 holes during the past five days, needed to win three matches on Sunday, beat seven players overall and had to rally four times.

First he dispatched Paul Casey early Sunday morning, coming back for one hole of their suspended quarterfinal match. Darkness halted that game after 21 holes on Saturday night, and it very well could have ended not long after the fog lifted Sunday morning, but McIlroy made a birdie and it was over.

Then it was on to resilient Jim Furyk in the semifinals. The 17-tme tour winner who just won the RBC Heritage two weeks ago kept the pressure on with his precision iron game. But Furyk couldn't close out a 1-up lead with two holes to play. McIlroy went birdie-birdie-eagle to finish, sealing a spot in the championship match.

"I give him credit," Furyk said. "It was great on 16, great up and down, and then he birdies 17 and eagle on 18. I tip my hat to him. It was a good match back and forth, just disappointing."

Then McIlroy went up against the long-hitting Woodland, ranked 49th in the world but far more suited to negating McIlroy's advantage over most of the field off the tee. McIlroy rattled off four straight birdies on the first nine, then saw his lead shrink to two early on the back nine. Sometimes you need breaks, and McIlroy got one when Woodland missed a short birdie putt on the 13th hole that would have cut the lead to one.

"I mean, if there's anybody that likes to front run, it's him," Woodland said. "He's obviously won a bunch of majors leading going into the final round. And he adds to his lead.

"I don't know if there's a nicer guy out here. I really like Rory. We had a good time. We're good friends. We talked all through the match today. But you can tell, when he saw when I missed the putt on 13, he definitely flipped another switch. He didn't miss a shot coming in after that."

And that might be the quality that separates McIlroy. Like the boxers he so enjoys watching, McIlroy has developed a killer instinct. He figured out a way to get it done, admitted on a day when he might not have always been at his best.

In doing so, he also quelled for a bit the furor over Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters last month, rocketed to No. 2 in the world and understandably received all the accolades that come with it. McIlroy admitted that "everyone was inspired [to] see what Jordan did at Augusta."

The victory was McIlroy's 10th on the PGA Tour. It was his 11th European Tour title. And it was his 17th worldwide professional victory (the four majors and two WGCs count on each tour, and he's also won the Australian Open and the Shanghai Masters.)

Now comes a busy stretch that includes this week's Players Championship, followed by the Wells Fargo Championship (although that could change), then his title defense of the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour and then the Irish Open, of which his foundation is involved.

That's a lot of golf, with the U.S. Open looming next month.

But McIlroy stood there Sunday morning, a cold chill in the air, about to hit his tee shot after just six hours of sleep, needing to win the sudden-death playoff over Casey to advance. Was he pondering that special bonding opportunity while watching the fight?

"The toughest thing was on the first tee this morning at 6:45 and thinking if I've just come all this way to play one hole," he quipped. "I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I don't want to have to do this just for one hole, I want to be here all day."

Good answer, Rory.