2021 CJ Cup at Summit grades: Rory McIlroy wins for historic 20th time on PGA Tour

In his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday at The Summit Club in Las Vegas, Rory McIlroy was reminded that he was one win away from 20 PGA Tour victories, but two years from the lifetime membership that number affords you after at least 15 years of service on Tour. After winning the CJ Cup at Summit on Sunday over Collin Morikawa, all he has to do is wait.

McIlroy shot a 62 on Saturday before backing that up with a 66 on Sunday to finish at 25-under and beat Morikawa, who shot his own 62 in the final round and lost by a single stroke. It was, as it almost always is with him when he’s feeling it, a show. On the weekend, McIlroy hit 31 of 36 greens in regulation and made almost everything he looked at. He led the field in driving and putting, and he was able to get away with a below-average performance with his iron play.

“It’s quite an achievement,” McIlroy told Golf Channel. “I still need a couple more years on Tour to get that lifetime exemption, but at least I’ve got the wins. I was asked that question at the start of the week, and it is a pretty big carrot. I think to get to 20 wins out here is a big achievement. I didn’t know if it was going to be this week, but I knew if I just kept my head down and kept playing well and kept doing the right things, I’d eventually get there.”

He also shut down Morikawa and others — including Rickie Fowler and Keith Mitchell — mostly without using his biggest weapon. After going out in 33, McIlroy came home pounding his 3-wood and hybrid off the tee to win this tournament. On the par-5 14th hole, he hit his 3-wood 343 yards and out-drove his playing partners Abraham Ancer by 21 yards and Fowler by a single yard, both of whom hit the driver off the tee. From there, McIlroy hit iron short of the green and made the putt for eagle to get to 25-under. It was both a knockout punch and also emblematic of how the second nine of his final round played out.

Though it won’t receive the same attention as his Wells Fargo Championship victory in May, this one is important because it gets him to 20 PGA Tour wins. At the age of 32, McIlroy becomes one of the youngest of 39 players in history to reach that number.

We could go on forever with numbers as they relate to McIlroy, but two nuggets stand out.

• At age 32, McIlroy has 20 PGA Tour wins and four majors. At the exact same age nearly 20 years ago, Phil Mickelson — who I believe is one of the 10 best golfers in the history of the game — had 21 PGA Tour wins and no majors.

• Jason Day (who is a year older than McIlroy) and Brooks Koepka (who is a year younger) — both former No. 1 players in the world — have a combined 20 PGA Tour wins and five majors.

It is absolutely astounding that McIlroy has matched one legend who’s a generation or two ahead of him, while also matching the combined careers of two of the 24 golfers who have ever ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the world (and who are essentially the same age). 

Interestingly, McIlroy said his outpouring of emotion at the Ryder Cup last month, where he struggled most of the week before winning from leadoff position on Sunday, greatly benefitted him.

“It was huge,” McIlroy said. “It really was. I was really disappointed with how I played. I get more emotional thinking about that than even thinking about this. There was a lot of reflection the last couple weeks. This is what I need to do. I need to play golf. I need to simplify it. I need to just be me. I think for the last few months I was maybe trying to be someone else to try and get better, and I sort of realized that being me is enough, and I can do things like this.”

It’s been enough for the last 13 years to get him in the rarefied air where names like Mickelson, Woods and Nicklaus are thrown around. It will almost certainly be enough into the future, even in a sport that is probably deeper and more difficult to win than it has ever been. McIlroy did enough this week to get his first win of the new season, just like he’s done 19 other times for more than a decade. Grade: A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the CJ Cup at Summit.

Collin Morikawa (2nd): The Open Championship winner gave a valiant effort on Sunday as he tried to chase down McIlroy with a 62 to close out the event at his home club, but he needed a completely perfect round and he only shot a nearly-perfect one. This is a tremendous bounce back from a horrible FedEx Cup Playoffs run. Though Morikawa has plenty of capital built up and not much to prove, it’s still nice to see him heading toward 2022 with all the form that has ushered in the “five wins in fewer than 60 tournaments” start to his career. Grade: A

Rickie Fowler (T3): After finishing in the top 10 just one time in his last 37 events, Fowler had an amazing week in the desert before running out of gas at the very end. There’s plenty of reason to be encouraged by the profile of his performance, too. We have at times in the past — including with Fowler at the 2021 PGA Championship where he finished T8 — seen players catch fire with the putter for a week and finish near the top of the board. This was not that, however. Fowler was actually one of the worst putters in the field during a week in which he finished first in driving and first from tee to green. It really was astounding to see how effortlessly he was hitting it off the tee on Sunday. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come for him in 2022. Grade: A+

Jordan Spieth (T18): It was a strange week for Spieth, who did not hit the ball very well, but was among the top five in this field in strokes gained off the tee. Normally, a trophy is involved when Spieth is in the top five in a field off the tee This is the best measured driving week he’s had off the tee since March 2018, but he couldn’t cash it in because of lackluster ball-striking and making just three putts longer than six feet over his final two rounds. Grade: B+

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