On a challenging Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, McIlroy relied on grit, determination and the lessons learned from recent disappointments to pick up his first victory in a year and his biggest win in much, much longer.
McIlroy's 15th PGA Tour title has lifted him to fourth in the world rankings and made him the betting favourite for the Masters, but domestic duties will ensure the four-time major victor keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
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.
"I've had a great start to the year and this is a massive win".
McIlroy carded two-under-par 70 at the famous TPC Sawgrass course in Ponte Vedra Beach to win a championship that was first held in 1974, when it was won by Jack Nicklaus.
"Maybe if I hadn't have had those experiences, I wouldn't be sitting up here with this trophy, so I'm thankful and grateful for those experiences I've had this year". On St. Patrick's Day, no less. Some fans wore outfits and hats covered in four-leaf clover patterns.
Day was chasing hard right until the par-five 16 where he needed eagle but he three-putted from an awkward lie, hanging out over the water, ultimately lipping out with his birdie from just over a metre. Obviously I wasn't. But as a pretty decent golfer I think you look at that green and just say, "Okay, just hit this green". This is my tournament and I've got to finish it off.
He would be walking away Sunday with plenty of green, too.
Slow play has become one of the PGA Tour's most talked-about issues, which came to a head at the recent Genesis Open in Los Angeles when victor JB Holmes was lambasted by commentators for his slow final round.
"That's the nice thing about our game, which doesn't happen in some other sports, and it's nice to take advantage of that luxury", McIlroy told The New York Times.
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, slipped out of contention after a poor start.
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He was solid to the end on a chilly, cloudy day and finished at 16-under 272 to win The Players on his 10th try. He two-putt for par and the win. Check in for highlights from every tournament plus player interviews, player profiles, tournament previews, swing analysis and all the greatest shots and unbelievable moments. - The island green that never looks smaller than it does on Sunday at the Players Championship proved to be no problem for Rory McIlroy. Everyone from the top 50 in the world is playing this week.
As for the future, Furyk said he still plans to play 18 to 20 events this year, but his performance at THE PLAYERS may result in him changing his schedule slightly, as he will qualify for additional tournaments. The longtime resident of Ponte Vedra Beach was the last person to get into the 144-player field and almost the last man standing on Sunday during his bid to become the event's oldest victor.
At that moment, Furyk was the leader of the tournament at 15-under, but perhaps more significant, the longtime area resident was home, with friends and family in the crowd, and he had returned to a state of his game not seen in years. "Haven't been in that position in awhile".
American Ryan Moore sensationally grabbed the 17th ace to be recorded at the par-3 17th hole in the history of the Players. He showed nerves early and a bit of frustration late on his way to a 4-over 76.
Rahm, who had a one-shot lead, started with three bogeys in four holes.
Jon Rahm felt like every shot would be good and a lot of them were on Sunday (NZ time) as he posted an eight-under 64 and built a one-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood in The Players Championship.
By the end of the day, his 64 was about as high as it could have been.
"I'm just really proud of myself the way I played the last few holes", he said.
Rahm, who had a one-shot lead, started with three bogeys in four holes and recovered until a curious decision.
McIlroy bogeyed the first two holes while Fleetwood double-bogeyed the first, where he missed a two-foot putt that did not even touch the cup. "I play golf because I love the game and I know that I have a talent for it and I want to make the most of it". I haven't put myself in the heat with really a good opportunity to win a golf tournament in a while, and I missed it. "And it took me a while to get to that point where I realized who those two people were".