Rory McIlroy seemed genuinely sympathetic after spoiling Adam Scott’s storybook ending.
He appeared to sincerely regret riding down from Mount Crumpet like the Grinch to steal the Whoville feast.
With his Sunday charge, with his closing birdie, McIlroy put an unceremonious end to Scott’s victory parade Down Under, winning the Australian Open to deny Scott Australian golf’s triple crown. McIlroy denied an entire continent the joy of ending a month-long celebration of Scott’s return home with an exclamation point.
“Pooh-pooh to the Whos!” he was grinchly humming. “They’re finding out now that no victory is coming! I know just what they’ll do! Their mouths will hang open a minute or two! Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry boo-hoo!”
Of course, that isn’t McIlroy’s style. His charm is so palpable he can soothe wounds with it.
“It was hard not to feel some sort of guilt the way I won it,” McIlroy told reporters afterward. “I feel a bit sorry that I was the one that ruined the triple crown for him.”
Scott had a one-shot lead going to the last hole, but he drilled his approach over the green, pitched clumsily and made bogey to lose by a shot.
“I am gutted,” Scott said. “I felt like I have never had a better chance to win the Aussie Open, but it was tight, the whole back nine. Rory played so good.”
McIlroy was respectful of Scott, of the affection Aussies have for him.
“It’s a real credit to him that he came down and played all four weeks,” McIlroy said of Scott’s return to his homeland. “He sort of knew what responsibility he had coming down as Masters champion, the first Australian to win a green jacket, and that’s just the sort of guy he is.
“He’s a true gentleman, and what I said at the prize ceremony, he’s a credit to the game, but he’s also a credit to this country.”
You don’t get this kind of emotion much in December golf, or a duel between two top-ranked players in an event that matters. Scott was trying to win his national open, a storybook ending to a storybook year that began with his Masters’ breakthrough. McIlroy was trying to win for the first time this season, to win back lost confidence and momentum.
The talent these two players possess, coupled with their likeability, made this a special holiday feast for golf fans. It was an unexpected dessert in a satisfying season that still isn’t over, with McIlroy heading this week to Tiger Woods’ elite-field event, the Northwestern Mutual Challenge.
McIlroy is no Grinch, not in demeanor or temperament, but so many of his victories are Grinch-like.
That’s what made the cold-blooded nature of his beating Scott so meaningful. McIlroy's killer instinct was back on display.
This was McIlroy at his best, another victory so at odds with his boyish charm. At his best, McIlroy stomps on hearts, demolishes competition in the most dispiriting ways. He destroyed the field winning the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional by eight shots with a record-breaking 16-under 268 total. He was equally ruthless in the PGA Championship at Kiawah last year, stepping on everyone’s necks in a record-breaking eight-shot rout.
With Woods back in winning form, the game is more interesting if McIlroy can keep his killer instinct intact.
At his best, McIlroy is the greatest challenge to Woods in the game today. When he is in form, McIlroy is fearless with his driver. He’ll hit it almost everywhere, with impunity. Woods won't. That makes McIlroy the most dangerous challenger to Woods in the game today, because it can give McIlroy a physical and psychological advantage over Woods that few players possess.
McIlroy’s confidence with his driver seems to feed down to every part of his game.
This victory at Royal Sydney isn’t the only sign McIlroy’s getting some of his mojo back. He tied for fifth at the DP World Tour Championship in his last start before the Australian Open. He tied for sixth at the WGC-HSBC Championship before that.
“I never lost belief,” McIlroy said after breaking Aussie hearts. “I never lost that aspect of it.”
Whoville can vouch for that.