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ATLANTA – Hardly anything ever goes right for Rory McIlroy in the FedEx Cup.
McIlroy won two straight FedEx Cup playoff events in 2012 and was the best player in golf only to watch Brandt Snedeker win the Tour Championship to beat him out of the $10 million bonus. Two years ago, he again was the No. 1 seed and was tied for the 54-hole lead until Billy Horschel beat him at East Lake.
McIlroy never looked like he had a chance Sunday.
He was three shots behind with three holes to play. Nearly two hours later, he poured in a 15-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole to win the Tour Championship and claim the FedEx Cup in the wildest finish of its 10-year history.
All it took was a wedge he holed from 137 yards for eagle on the 16th hole and a birdie on the par-5 18th hole for a 6-under 64. Along the way, he needed Dustin Johnson to fade, and the U.S. Open champion did just that with a 73.
"I needed stuff like that to happen," McIlroy said. "But I think after 2012 and 2014, it feels that little bit sweeter that I've been able to get it done."
Nothing was sweeter than No. 16.
"I guess it all started on 16 in regulation when I holed that wedge," McIlroy said.
Kevin Chappell was in the final group behind him and showing no signs of doing anything but winning, especially when Chappell stuffed a shot into 4 feet for birdie on the 16th to build a two-shot lead. Ryan Moore was in the penultimate group alongside McIlroy, and he was busy scrambling for pars until he rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, which gave him a share of the lead when Chappell made bogey behind him.
Moore and Chappell were tied at 12-under par. McIlroy was at 11 under.
Johnson, who never recovered from a tough start on the front nine with some errant tee shots and closed with a 73, was out of it at this point. As long as Moore or Chappell won the Tour Championship, Johnson would win the FedEx Cup.
It just didn't work out that way.
McIlroy nearly holed his bunker shot on the 18th hole and made a birdie. Moore (64) and Chappell (66) made par, setting up a three-way playoff at East Lake where money was potentially changing hands with each shot.
Chappell was eliminated on the first extra hole with a par on the 18th. McIlroy looked as though he would put the finishing touches on this stirring rally with a shot into 6 feet for eagle on the first playoff hole — except that he missed the putt, and Moore made a 10-footer for birdie to keep it going.
It finally ended where it all started for McIlroy — on the 16th.
Moore still made him work for it, holing a 15-foot par putt that force McIlroy to make his from about the same distance, and he did. McIlroy stiffened his back and screamed at reaching a goal that never looked like a possibility until the end.
"Just to see that ball drop, and everything that's come together for me this year ... to pull it off was really special," McIlroy said, his voice still hoarse from screaming over so many quality shots, so many clutch moments over the final two hours at East Lake.
McIlroy picked up $11.53 million in one day — the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus and $1.53 million for the Tour Championship, his second victory in three weeks that made him the first player to win four FedEx Cup playoff events.
"I just wanted to make him earn it for that much money at least," Moore said. "I wanted him to make the putt. It was nice to get up and make it, but you give a great player like him that many opportunities, and he's going to make one eventually."
Moore had quite the consolation prize — he was the final captain's pick for the Ryder Cup later Sunday night.
Johnson had to settle for a $3 million bonus, though that was OK with him. He realized a Moore victory would bring him the FedEx Cup, and that would have been fine.
"It didn't feel right because I didn't win the Tour Championship," Johnson said. "That's why I was here to win. I knew I controlled my own destiny."
The real heartache belonged to Chappell, who played superbly for so long until one tee shot on the 17th tumbled into the nasty rough and led to bogey. He had a 20-foot birdie chance on the last hole that he left woefully short, and he failed to birdie the 18th again in the playoff.
It was his fourth runner-up finish this season, in which he made more than $4.5 million but still doesn't have a PGA Tour trophy. In those four runner-up finishes, Jason Day beat him twice and McIlroy beat him once. Chappell shot 67, 69, 69 and 66 in those finishes.
"I'm proud of the way I fought," he said. "It just wasn't enough."