Billy Horschel stared down the world’s best golfer on Sunday and came out victorious.
I had the privilege of watching firsthand as Horschel clinched his Tour Championship victory and the accompanying FedEx Cup championship Sunday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
For a guy playing in the final pairing with the world No. 1 and winner of two majors in 2014, Horschel looked about as scared as a fish would be of water.
And, boy, did Horschel excel on his way to an $11.44 million payday. If anyone was intimidated by the moment Sunday, it was Rory McIlroy, whose shot into the water on No. 6 ensured he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the supremely confident Horschel.
For the first three holes, the co-leaders matched each other shot for shot. It seemed like the two were on their way to a prize-fight finish.
But on this day, McIlroy was no match for Horschel’s consistency and fearless attacking of pins. Even when Jim Furyk played well enough to briefly pull into a tie for the lead, Horschel didn’t blink.
In his multi-colored pants, he wasn’t about to go into defense mode. It’s a refreshing approach that yielded him a second place and two wins in the final three weeks of the FedEx Cup.
Perhaps never was that grit on better display than on the 16th green. Sure, Horschel had birdied No. 15 to retake the outright lead mere minutes after Furyk had tied him, but Horschel’s par save on the 16th was the decisive blow.
With tension in the air and the real possibility of falling back into a tie for the lead, Horschel calmly sank a 30-foot putt. Then, he broke into an emphatic celebration on the 16th green. By that point, all McIlroy could do was watch as Horschel essentially wrapped up the tournament.
Furyk bogeyed the final two holes, and even a trio of birdies from holes 15-17 left McIlroy tied with Furyk three shots behind at the finish.
It’s hard to say how Horschel might fare going forward in major tournaments. His tie for fourth at the U.S. Open in 2013 is his lone high finish in his brief experience with majors, which also includes some missed cuts.
His consistency is also a valid question with only two top-10 finishes this year before his recent three-week burst. He jumped from 59th to 14th, one spot ahead of Tiger Woods, in the World Golf ranking in the past three weeks. But if Horschel is able to elevate his game to be in contention on a more regular basis, that’s great news for golf.
He’s the kind of aggressive competitor who won’t back down against the likes of McIlroy, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson. And he isn’t afraid to show his personality either. That’s a winning combination.