Richard Mansell heads into the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship armed with a four-shot lead and a glorious chance to earn a first DP World Tour win.

Englishman Mansell was one of just three players to go under 70 when wild weather made for troublesome golfing conditions on Friday, and the 27-year-old followed that impressive 68 with 67 on Saturday to reach 15 under par.

At a tournament where the first three rounds have been split daily between St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, it is Mansell who will start on Sunday as the frontrunner when all competitors head to the Old Course for the closing 18 holes.

Three players sit four shots off the pace, with Sweden's Alex Noren losing ground to Mansell after going round in 69 at St Andrews. He was joined on 11 under by two players who competed at Kingsbarns on Saturday: England's Daniel Gavins (67) and New Zealand's Ryan Fox (65).

Mansell, who played Carnoustie on Saturday, has yet to win on the tour and entered this week on the back of two missed cuts, but he has had top-four finishes this season at the European Open, World Invitational and European Masters.

The world number 218 is having the best year of his career, earning almost €550,000 (£480,000) already, and he can more than double that on Sunday, with $816,000 (£730,000) on offer to the champion.

The low round of Saturday came from Belgium's Thomas Pieters, whose bogey-free 64 repaired some of Friday's damage, when he followed his opening 65 with a ruinous 84.

Rory McIlroy had a 75 on Friday but rebounded with 66 at St Andrews on Saturday to reach seven under, likely too far back to mount a challenge on the final day.

Richard Mansell overcame tricky conditions to shoot a four-under-par 68 to ensure he goes into the weekend at the top of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship leaderboard.

Mansell carded the lowest score of the round to get to ten under par, helped by four birdies on the front nine as he battled through the wet and windy weather.

The Englishman now holds a two-shot lead over Sweden's Alex Noren in second, while Antoine Rozner and Niklas Norgaard Moller sit three shots behind the leader on seven under par.

Romain Langasque, who equalled the best-ever round at the Old Course at St Andrews with his opening round of 11-under-par on Thursday, endured a nightmare second day as he shot an eight-over-par 80 to fall to 19th.

Rory McIlroy was another to struggle with the conditions, with the world number two going round in 75 at Kingsbarns to drop to joint-43rd.

Scot Robert MacIntyre remains in contention after carding a second round of 70, while English pair Callum Shinkwin and Daniel Gavins are also in striking distance on five under par.

The PGA Tour has accused the LIV Golf Invitational Series of making "astronomical" offers to players in a bid to "sportswash" Saudi Arabia's global image in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday. 

The controversial LIV series – which counts the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau among its ranks – launched an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last month.

LIV accused the PGA of operating as a monopoly and alleged the Tour's decision to issue suspensions to players who joined the breakaway circuit was improper.

Eleven LIV golfers were originally named as plaintiffs in that claim, although eight – including Mickelson – have since withdrawn.

The PGA Tour has now hit back with legal action of its own, alleging: "A key component of LIV's strategy has been to intentionally induce Tour members to breach their Tour agreements and play in LIV events while seeking to maintain their Tour memberships and play in marquee Tour events, so LIV can free ride off the Tour and its platform."

The PGA's counterclaim goes on to accuse LIV of offering players "astronomical sums of money" in an attempt "to use the LIV Players and the game of golf to sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities."

In a widely publicised statement, LIV responded by saying: "The Tour has made these counterclaims in a transparent effort to divert attention from their anti-competitive conduct.

"We remain confident that the courts and the justice system will right these wrongs."

FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy – who has been a staunch critic of the LIV series – declared golf was "ripping itself apart" earlier on Thursday, as the bitter divide between the two circuits shows no signs of healing.

One day earlier, McIlroy called on LIV players to do more to foster a sense of reconciliation between the tours, declaring: "The ball is in their court".

Frenchman Romain Langasque leads the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship after producing an outstanding 11-under-par opening round of 61 on Thursday.

Langasque – who is 272nd in the official world golf rankings – hit two eagles, eight birdies and just one bogey in his round, equalling the best-ever at The Old Course at St Andrews made by Ross Fisher in 2017.

However, he sits just one clear of compatriot Frederic Lacroix, who went round in 62 at Kingsbarns.

It was a good day for the French as Antoine Rozner looked to have locked out the top three for them, before Dane Niklas Noergaard Moeller also carded an opening round of 63.

"It feels very good," Langasque said of his achievement. "As I said to my caddie, it didn't feel like I shot 11 under today. I was having a good run, but just five, six was the way I think of it, but just the end of the course was amazing.

"I holed a few long putts. The game was great but it didn't feel [like] I shot 11 under.

"I never [thought] I'd have the course record at St Andrews, now I think my name is on this board so I am really happy about this. It's only the first round so I want to stay really focused for the next few days."

Rory McIlroy could not match those numbers at Carnoustie, hitting six birdies and two bogeys as he finished with 68, but the world number two was pleased enough with his first round.

"I started really well," he said. "I played the back nine very well, then sort of stalled a little bit and made a couple of bad swings coming in. Overall, you are not going to get Carnoustie in easier conditions so I feel like I left a few shots out there.

"It was a decent day and to play decent, you do not want to be chasing in what looks like really bad weather tomorrow so I've put a red number on the board and have a few shots to play with."

Rory McIlroy believes "golf is ripping itself apart right now" as the battle between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf Invitational Series rages on.

The introduction of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf has caused a huge divide in the sport, with big names such as Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau defecting from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf.

The storm has also seen some defectors file lawsuits against the PGA Tour after it banned those who made the switch to LIV Golf from playing in its events.

And McIlroy, who has remained fiercely loyal to the PGA Tour, sees the dispute as harmful for players on both sides of the divide, telling reporters: "I don't want a fractured game. I never have.

"You look at some other sports and what's happened and the game of golf is ripping itself apart right now.

"It's no good for the guys on, you know, this side or the sort of traditional system and it's no good for the guys on the other side, either.

"It's no good for anyone. There is a time and a place for it. I just think right now, with where everything is, it's probably not the right time.

"I've always said I think there is a time and a place where everyone that's involved here should sit down and try to work together. It's very hard for that to happen right now when there's two lawsuits going on."

McIlroy already said on Wednesday that it fell upon LIV Golf players to take the lead on repairing relations between the two tours.

"I would just say the ball is in their court," McIlroy told the BBC.

"If they want to come to the table and try to play nicely within the sandbox that's already created, the opportunity is there."

Rory McIlroy has called for players from the LIV Golf Invitational Series to step up to fix the bitter divide impacting the sport, declaring: "The ball is in their court."

McIlroy has been a steadfast critic of the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed circuit, which counts the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau among its ranks. 

The FedEx Cup champion declared his "hatred" for the breakaway circuit last month, and recently said LIV players should be excluded from next year's Ryder Cup.

Speaking to BBC Sport on Wednesday, McIlroy said it was up to LIV's players to assume a leading role in repairing relations with those who remained loyal to the PGA.

"I would just say the ball is in their court," McIlroy said. "If they want to come to the table and try to play nicely within the sandbox that's already created, the opportunity is there."

Eleven LIV players initially supported an antitrust lawsuit filed against the PGA Tour, accusing it of operating as a monopoly and alleging the suspension of players joining the new circuit was improper.

However, eight of those players have since withdrawn, with Mickelson doing so on Tuesday. 

While McIlroy believes a resolution to golf's bitter civil war is possible, he said those legal proceedings currently make reconciliation difficult.

"Right now with two lawsuits going on, and how heightened the rhetoric has been, I think we just need to let it cool off a little bit," McIlory added.

"I don't know what's going to happen with this lawsuit. No one's going to want to talk to anyone when it's hanging over the game, so I don't know what happens there.

"I've probably said a few things that are maybe too inflammatory at times, but it just comes from the heart and how much I hate what this is doing to the game.

"It has been an ugly year but there's a solution to everything. If we can send rockets to the moon and bring them back again and have them land on their own I'm sure we can figure out how to make professional golf cohesive again."

However, as LIV Golf continues to lobby the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) for the ability to grant rankings points, McIlroy said the circuit's players will only have themselves to blame if they miss out on qualifying for majors.

"The only ones that are prohibiting them from getting world rankings points are themselves," McIlroy said.

"It's not as if [the OWGR] created this criteria out of thin air a few months ago to try to prevent LIV from getting points.

"I think if they were to pivot, have cuts, have a minimum field of 75, have more of a merit-based system where there's a meritocracy for how to get on the tour...

"There's a bunch of stuff where they don't meet the criteria yet, but if they were to change and meet all those points then there's obviously no reason not to give them world ranking points.

"I'm certainly not for banning them from majors, but with the way the world rankings are now, if someone that hasn't won the Masters before can't garner enough world ranking points to be eligible, then I think that's entirely on them.

"They knew the risks going in, and actions have consequences. That was a risk that they were paid for, ultimately. 

"If some of these guys that don't have exemptions in the majors don't qualify for them, I have no problem with that because they knew that going in."

Robert MacIntyre landed his second DP World Tour title by beating Matt Fitzpatrick in a play-off finish to the Italian Open.

The 26-year-old, whose only previous Tour triumph came at the Cyprus Showdown in 2020, started the final round three shots behind overnight leader Fitzpatrick.

However, a remarkable 10 birdies for MacIntyre at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club saw him finish seven-under par on Sunday and 14-under overall, level with Fitzpatrick.

US Open winner Fitzpatrick, who was seeking a second title of the season, birdied the 18th hole to force a play-off in Rome.

Just one hole was required as the Englishman could only manage a par after a poor tee shot, whereas MacIntyre birdied to seal a surprise victory.

"This means everything," MacIntyre said. "I was down and out about two or three months ago – I didn't know what I was doing and didn't know where to go.

"But we spoke to the right people and I started working with Simon Shanks. I mean, I've hit two perfect golf shots into the last there. There's so much hard work gone into this."

Rory McIlroy had been expected to rival Fitzpatrick for the title, the Northern Irishman starting the day one shot behind, but he ended up finishing fourth.

He started the final round with a double-bogey on the first hole, before recovering with five birdies over the next 14 holes.

McIlroy was back within one shot of the lead at that point, but a bogey on the par-four 16th, when finding the water off the tee, effectively ended his chances.

Victor Perez capitalised to finish third at 13 under, with his final round of 66 bettered only by MacIntyre's 64.

Matt Fitzpatrick is "not really too bothered" about the prospect of playing alongside LIV Golf rebels in Europe's Ryder Cup team.

Debate around the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway series has dominated this year and is only likely to ramp up further ahead of the Ryder Cup in 2023.

Rory McIlroy has been a fierce opponent of LIV Golf, and speaking on Wednesday, ahead of the Italian Open, he reiterated his stance on selection for the prestigious team event.

"If I have said it once, I've said it a hundred times: I don't think any of those guys should be on the Ryder Cup team," he said.

However, U.S. Open champion Fitzpatrick, McIlroy's European team-mate, does not agree.

McIlroy is set to play the Ryder Cup for the seventh time and already has four triumphs to his name. On the other hand, Fitzpatrick has only been on the losing team, in both 2016 and 2021. 

"I just want to win the Ryder Cup," Fitzpatrick said. "I want to be part of the team myself, but I want the 11 best guys we can get.

"I'm not really too bothered about where they are going to come from. I just want to make sure that we win, and I think that's what's most important.

"I know other guys might not necessarily agree with that, but I know the winning feeling is worth more than any sort of arguments you might have with other players.

"There's one that I had a conversation with last week – I told him I'd happily have him on the team. I'd have no issues."

Bernd Wiesberger, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter were all team-mates of McIlroy and Fitzpatrick in Europe's 2021 team and have each since played LIV Golf events.

Soren Kjeldsen carded a superb eight-under 64 on a belated second day of the BMW PGA Championship, tying for the lead with Viktor Hovland.

Having seen play postponed on Friday following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, matters resumed at Wentworth with Kjeldsen posting one of the scores of the day.

The Dane moved to 12 under for the tournament, but that was only enough for a share of the lead after Hovland built on his own 64 with a four-under 68.

Hovland had jointly held the lead with Tommy Fleetwood and Andy Sullivan at close of play on Thursday.

Fleetwood fell away in the second round, though, with a round of one over par – including a double-bogey at the four-par sixth – leaving him five back.

Rory McIlroy, pipped to the PGA Tour Player of the Year award by Scottie Scheffler on Saturday, continued his strong form with a seven-under 65.

That effort, which included an eagle at the par-five fourth, moved McIlroy to 11 under, one shot off the lead alongside Thomas Detry and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Meanwhile, the round of the day – and indeed the tournament so far – belonged to Australia's Min Woo Lee, who bounced back spectacularly from Thursday's 76 with a sensational 10-under 62, guided by two eagles and seven birdies.

Scottie Scheffler received an overwhelming majority of the votes as he was named PGA Tour Player of the Year for 2022.

Scheffler, the world number one, has enjoyed a brilliant year, winning his first major title at The Masters in April.

The 26-year-old won in four of his first six starts this year, becoming the first player since Jason Day in the 2014-15 season to do so, and finished T2 at the US Open alongside Will Zalatoris, one shot back from champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

Other than his triumph at Augusta, Scheffler won the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, the Phoenix Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Only the great Tiger Woods (eight victories) has previously won four tournaments, including a major and a WGC competition, in the same season.

Scheffler was presented with the Jack Nicklaus Award live on ESPN's College GameDay ahead of the college football meeting between the Texas Longhorns and the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday.

A Dallas native, Scheffler received 89 per cent of the votes to clinch the award ahead of Rory McIlroy and Cameron Smith. He is the first player to win the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year, PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and PGA Tour Player of the Year.

"On behalf of the PGA Tour, congratulations to Scottie on his remarkable season and his unprecedented achievements," said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan in a statement.

"Undoubtedly, one of the highest compliments a player can receive is the endorsement from his peers, and the fact that Scottie's season was both dominant and consistent spoke volumes to the membership. 

"As gratifying as it has been to see his development on the course over the last several years, we are equally thankful that Scottie has embraced the role as an ambassador of the PGA Tour and the game of golf. With young stars like Scottie leading the way, the PGA Tour is in great hands for many years to come."

Scheffler finished the 2021-22 season with 11 top-10 finishes in 25 starts, though he was just pipped to the FedEx Cup title by McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman won three tournaments over the course of the season, and became a de facto spokesperson for the PGA Tour amid the LIV Golf Invitational Series breakaway.

Smith - who like McIlroy recorded three victories, though unlike the world number three clinched a major title at The Open Championship - is one of the biggest names LIV Golf have lured away from the PGA Tour.

Tommy Fleetwood impressed on his return to claim a share of the lead after round one of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, shooting eight-under-par to end Thursday tied with Andy Sullivan and Viktor Hovland.

Fleetwood had not played since finishing fourth in the Open at St Andrews in July, having taken an extended period of absence following his mother's death.

But he showed no signs of rustiness on Thursday as he cruised around a rainy Wentworth in 64 shots, covering his last seven holes in six under before declaring his delight at returning to the DP World Tour. 

"It's nice to be back more than anything," said Fleetwood. "Seven weeks off feels more like two years I guess. 

"When you stand on the first tee, you don't know what to expect, no matter how well you might have been practising or playing.

"It was a lovely grouping to come back to, best friends on Tour [Justin Rose was in his group]. It's always better that I played good rather than bad, but it was just nice to be back."

Sullivan recovered with a fine bunker shot at the 18th to ensure he remained level with Fleetwood, before Hovland joined the leading duo in style with an eagle on the last, sinking a fine putt from 27 feet.

Jordan Matthew finished seven-under on a good day for the home hopefuls, with Shane Lowry, Jason Scrivener, Fabrizio Zanotti and Marcus Amitage all a shot further back.

Rory McIlroy, who became the first three-time FedEX Cup winner last month, finished four-under for the day, and told Sky Sports he could have done more.

"I thought I played okay, as you said the rain was on and off all day and that made it really tricky," he said.

"I felt four-under was pretty pedestrian, I didn't do a lot right, I didn't do a lot wrong, I definitely feel that the course is going to be very gettable for the rest of the week.

"Winning gives me motivation more than anything else, you've proven to yourself that you can win, you can beat the best players in the world. I've always got this sense of excitement after a win, and it's about resetting goals to strive for other things."

Rory McIlroy says his relationships with several former Ryder Cup team-mates have strained by their decisions to join the LIV Golf series.

Five members of Europe's team for the 2021 tournament, at which they were well beaten by the United States at Whistling Straits, have joined the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed circuit.

Four of those five – Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Bernd Wiesberger – are part of the field for this week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

The presence of LIV golfers at the DP World Tour's flagship event has been criticised by some players, with former world number one Jon Rahm and defending BMW PGA champion Billy Horschel both hitting out at their participation. 

McIlroy has been a fierce defender of the PGA Tour amid the divide with LIV Golf, and admits he has grown distant with many of his counterparts on the breakaway circuit. 

"I wouldn't say I've got much of a relationship with them at the minute," McIlroy said of his former Ryder Cup team-mates.

"But, like, I haven't done anything different. They are the ones that have made that decision. I can sit here and keep my head held high and say I haven't done anything differently."

Having declared last month that it would be "hard to stomach" LIV players joining the field at Wentworth, McIlroy was more diplomatic this time around, adding: "They are here. They are playing the golf tournament. 

"My opinion is they shouldn't be here, but again that's just my opinion.

"But we are all going to tee it up on the first tee tomorrow and we are all going to go play 72 holes, which is a novelty for them at this point, and then we'll go from there.

"If you're just talking about Ryder Cup, that's not the future of the Ryder Cup team. They've played in probably a combined 25, 30 Ryder Cups, whatever it is.

"The Hojgaards [brothers Rasmus and Nicolai], Bobby Mac [Robert MacIntyre], whoever else is coming up, they are the future of the Ryder Cup team. That's what we should be thinking about and talking about."

Meanwhile, the DP World Tour's chief executive Keith Pelley has hit out at comments from Westwood and Garcia after the two men claimed the DP World Tour is nothing more than a feeder circuit for the PGA.

Garcia, Europe's record points scorer in the Ryder Cup, recently declared the DP World Tour to be just the fifth best circuit in world golf.

"It's unbelievable," Pelley said. "Let's look at the facts. If the metric determining the top tours in the world is just money, then the number one tour is the PGA Tour, always has been. You could argue that the LIV Invitational Series is number two.

"But The Asian Tour, $22.5m; Korn Ferry Tour; $20m; Japan, $28m; Australia, $5.8m; Sunshine Tour, $7.4m. Totalling all their prize funds together comes to just half of our tour. So even if the only metric is money, how possibly could we ever become number five?

"Is this week a tournament that is on a feeder tour? A tournament that has sold-out crowds, television coverage around the world in 150 countries, five of the top 15 players in the world? A tournament with 150 accredited media?

"Our first co-sanctioned event with the PGA Tour in Scotland, where 14 of the top 15 players played, would that appear on a feeder tour? I could go on and on."

Pelley also defended his decision to remain aligned with the PGA Tour, adding: "LIV Golf and the PGA Tour are involved in a power struggle for our sport.

"It is corporate America versus a sovereign state and a conflict fought out with eye-watering sums of money. I often get the question, why can't we work with both the PGA Tour and the Saudis. We tried.

"But the Saudis remain determined to set up a new series outside of the current ecosystem. That decision has created the conflict we see today, and we chose to partner with the leading tour in the game.

"Some people might not agree with that decision. But it's a decision we feel is the right thing to do for all our members."

Cameron Smith has been nominated for the PGA Tour Player of the Year award, just weeks after the Open champion defected to rival series LIV Golf.

The Australian is a finalist for the prize alongside world number one Scottie Scheffler and FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy.

The trio enjoyed some of the finest form of their careers this year, with Smith and Scheffler claiming first major wins at St Andrews and the Masters respectively.

Smith's nomination after his defection to LIV Golf, among the highest-profile losses from the PGA Tour, will rankle with some.

The 29-year-old enjoyed a strong first tournament at LIV Boston over the weekend, just missing out on the deciding play-off where Dustin Johnson picked up his first series title.

Open runner-up Cameron Young is one of three nominees for the Rookie of the Year award, alongside Tom Kim and Sahith Theegala.

It was hardly the start Rory McIlroy had envisioned.

His opening drive on Thursday at the Tour Championship careened over the boundary fence and out of bounds, eventually leading to a triple bogey. Making matters worse, a bogey followed at the second, and suddenly, McIlroy was a distant 10 strokes behind the FedEx Cup leader, Scottie Scheffler.

The gritty Northern Irishman must be a glass-half-full kind of guy, though, and McIlroy wasn't about to let the stumble dictate the direction he would take in the Playoff finale at historic East Lake Golf Club.

Indeed, he fought back on Thursday, shooting a back-nine 31 and finishing with a 67 to stay in the mix and by Sunday McIlroy had worked his way into the final group with Scheffler, albeit six shots in arrears.

The battle between the world number one and the third-ranked McIlroy for the PGA Tour's biggest prize on a sun-drenched afternoon didn’t disappoint, either. It was, as McIlroy would later say, a "spectacle", as entertaining a match as they come.

As McIlroy doggedly pushed forward on Sunday, Scheffler, a four-time winner this season, began to flounder. McIlroy tied for the lead with an improbable 31-footer at the 15th hole and took sole possession at the next when the Texan couldn't get up-and-down from a greenside bunker.

Two scrambling pars later and McIlroy became the first three-time winner of the FedEx Cup, earning $18million in the process. He closed with a 66 and finished at 21-under while Scheffler shot 73, making just one birdie all day, and tied for second with Sungjae Im.

McIlroy was nothing if not magnanimous in victory. He hugged Scheffler's parents and wife, who were standing near the scoring area, telling them their man deserved the title, too. Then he said as much on television as he was interviewed by NBC's Mike Tirico.

"What a week, what a day," McIlroy said as he gripped the gleaming silver Tiffany trophy tightly. "I feel like Scottie deserves at least half of this today. He has had an unbelievable season. I feel sort of bad that I pipped him to the post, but he's a hell of a competitor. He's an even better guy.

"It was an honor and a privilege to battle with him today, and I'm sure we'll have many more. I told him we're 1-1 in Georgia today: He got The Masters; I got this."

The dichotomy of the way he started the tournament and the way he finished was not lost on McIlroy, either. He couldn't help but remember the resiliency shown just four weeks earlier when Tom Kim started the Wyndham Championship with a quadruple bogey to fall 13 shots off the pace before going on to win.

"I guess it just shows you anything's possible, even when you're a few behind or a few in front in the tournament," McIlroy said. "Anything can happen. I'm going to remember this week mostly for that. Your mind can go one of two ways when you start like that, and automatically I thought about Tom Kim at Greensboro.

"I could have easily thought the other way and thought, I've got no chance now; what am I doing here? But I just sort of, I guess, proved that I was in a really good mindset for the week, and I didn't let it get to me too much and just stuck my head down and got to work."

The 2021-22 season was another standout one for McIlroy, whose third victory of the year brings his career total on Tour to 22. He's still looking for his fifth major championship – and first since 2014 – but the consistency of four top 10s, including second at The Masters and third at The Open Championship, has to be heartening.

McIlroy likened this season to his 2019 campaign, when he won The Players Championship and RBC Canadian Open before beating Brooks Koepka, then the top-ranked player in the world, at East Lake. And not even McIlroy's good friend Tiger Woods has won three FedEx Cup crowns.

"I played great golf. I had some good wins but didn't pick off a major, but I felt like Harry [Diamond, his caddie] said it to me on the 18th green today. He goes, all the good golf you played this year, you deserve this," McIlroy explained.

"Look, it's really cool to do something in golf that no one has ever done before. Obviously, the history of the FedEx Cup isn't as long as the history of some other tournaments, but to be walking out of here three times a champion, it's very, very satisfying and something that I'm incredibly proud of."

In some ways, and with all due respect to Scheffler, McIlroy was the perfect winner at East Lake. He and Woods were at the heart of a players-only meeting at the BMW Championship that was the catalyst for some of the sweeping changes that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced in Atlanta a day before the Playoff finale began.

Those changes include additional elevated events for 2023 that will feature purses of at least $20m and are designed to bring the game’s top players together 20 times a year. McIlroy is a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board and has emerged as its most ardent spokesman.

"Look, it's been a tumultuous time for the world of men's professional golf in particular,” he said. "I've been in the thick of things. I guess every chance I get, I'm trying to defend what I feel is the best place to play elite professional golf in the world.

"It's in some ways fitting that I was able to get this done today to sort of round off a year that has been very, very challenging and different."

As eye-popping as the money on offer at the Tour Championship was, as well as what will be offered at the elevated events in the future is, though, McIlroy will be the first to say it’s the competition that fuels him. Not dollar signs.

"There's a lot of cool things that come along with winning the FedEx Cup," McIlroy said. "The trophy, I have three sterling silver Calamity Jane replicas in my house, which is really cool. To think about here at East Lake and Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur player to ever play the game, the sort of history and traditions of the game of golf. He sort of exemplified all that.

"Look, the money is the money. It's great, and we are professional golfers, we play golf for a living. That is a part of it. But I think at this point in my career, the winning and the journey and the emotions and who I do it with mean more than the check."

It's no surprise that at the end of this latest PGA Tour season it was Rory McIlroy ultimately hosting the FedEx Cup, considering the statistically dominant campaign the Northern Irishman put together.

Though his three-win season might not appear at the top of his career highlights - the major championship triumphs in 2012 and 2014 may never be matched - it nevertheless culminated in one of the best statical campaigns of his heralded career.

After lifting the FedEx Cup for the third time, the first player in Tour history to do so, McIlroy capped off a season that saw him earn his fourth scoring average title, at 68.67, the only player on the PGA Tour to finish with a sub-69 average (the overall average for the 2021-22 season was 71.092).

Only Vijay Singh (2003) and Tiger Woods (eight different times) have matched McIlroy with a season-long average below 68.7.

McIlroy's six-shot comeback over Scottie Scheffler at the Tour Championship also cemented the 33-year-old’s fourth season of at least three wins, as he also jumpstarted his campaign with a victory at the CJ Cup before claiming the RBC Canadian Open midway through the year.

"I'm back to playing the golf that I'm used to playing, and the golf that I know that I can play," McIlroy said prior to the FedEx St. Jude Championship. "COVID was a weird time for everyone, and then coming out of it and going into the 2021 season, with my swing where it was, I was trying to change a couple of things and was going down a path I realised wasn't the path for me. [I'm] coming back out of that and now getting back to playing the golf I know I can play."

The late-season rise was in no doubt due to McIlroy's impressive resurgence across several aspects of his game. After ending The Masters ranked next-to-last among 209 TOUR players in average proximity from 50 to 125 yards (24 feet, one inch), McIlroy went on a tear that saw him close out the season with an average of 14 feet, one inch, best among all players with more than 30 attempts in that span.

But that wasn’t the only area where he’s upped his play. McIlroy ranked No. 131 in scrambling percentage last season, only to finish 30th this year, while also improving more than 50 spots in Strokes Gained: Around the Green (63rd in 2020-21 to 12th this season). Perhaps most importantly, the 22-time PGA Tour winner was 16th for Strokes Gained: Putting per round, after he finished 66th in 2021 and 122nd in 2019-20.

McIlroy ended the season ranked inside the top-50 in all four primary Strokes Gained categories (off-the-tee, approach the green, around the green and putting), only the second time he's done that, joining the 2018-19 season. That season he also won the TOUR Championship and RBC Canadian Open, along with The Players Championship.

"This year feels very similar to the way I played in 2019," he said. "It's a carbon copy in terms of the consistency and the numbers and the strokes gained numbers, but my finishes in the majors have been better and that's been – that's been a real positive looking ahead into next year and the future."

CANTLAY REPEATS

Before McIlroy hoisted the PGA Tour's ultimate prize, all eyes were on Patrick Cantlay for a potential repeat.

Last season's FedEx Cup champion was primed to go back-to-back after he became the first player to successfully defend a Playoffs event since their 2007 inception. At the BMW Championship, the 30-year-old birdied the 17th at Wilmington Country Club to hold off Scott Stallings in a one-shot victory, his second win at the event in as many years.

A year ago, Cantlay survived in a six-hole playoff at Maryland's Caves Valley Golf Club to win the BMW Championship, before sealing the FedEx Cup with a one-shot win over Jon Rahm.

"I think every time I've tried to defend, I don't think I've been able to do it, but it's something that you definitely circle on your calendar as something you want to do," Cantlay said. "These golf courses reminded me a lot of each other, and I was glad not to go six holes in a playoff."

Much like a season ago, it was largely the putter that lifted Cantlay to a post-season victory. Over the last two FedEx Cup Playoffs, Cantlay is +18.39 in total Strokes Gained: Putting, the most of any player.

The BMW Championship was a microcosm of that, as Cantlay was ranked 49th of 67 players in the third round, losing 1.493 strokes to the field. But after a late-night putting session, the Californian ranked 10th in Sunday’s final round, gaining 1.628 strokes on the field. He was a perfect 10-for-10 on Sunday putting inside 3 feet, after missing one in 13 attempts the day before. He was 16-for-17 from inside 10 feet on Sunday and just 15 for 20 on Saturday.

ZALATORIS BREAKS THROUGH

Fans have been anxiously awaiting Will Zalatoris’s first trip to the PGA Tour winner's circle, after heart-aching playoff losses this year at the Farmers Insurance Open and PGA Championship.

Viewers finally got their wish in the first leg of the FedExCup Playoffs, as the young 26-year-old poured in a clutch par at the last to force extra holes with Sepp Straka. He ultimately outlasted the Austrian on the third playoff hole.

"It's kind of hard to say 'about time' when it's your second year on Tour, but about time," Zalatoris joked. "Obviously this was a grind considering the start that I had. I love this golf course, I played well here last year. Considering all the close finishes that I've had this year, to finally pull it off, it means a lot."

The budding superstar led the field in both Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (+1.93) and Tee-to-Green (+2.35), becoming just the second player to lead both at the FedEx St. Jude Championship (Dustin Johnson, 2020).

All the more impressive was that he finished the first round at one over, the highest score to par after the opening round by a winner at the FedEx St Jude Championship. The previous worst opening round by a winner? Vijay Singh, who was one under after 18 holes in 2008.

Zalatoris was tied for 86th after the first round, marking the lowest position by a winner after the opening round of the playoffs (McIlroy previously held the honor, sitting at T67 after the opening round of the 2016 Dell Technologies Championship). 

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