The ball hung on the right lip of the cup. It refused to drop. Absolutely refused to fall.
"I still don't know why it didn't," Rory McIlroy said of his 20-foot birdie attempt on the final hole of the Deutsche Bank Championship.
So there stood the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world on the 18th green at TPC Boston shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, biting on the grip of his putter. That's right. McIlroy was left putting a dental death grip on his money club.
There was so much on the line for so many in the final round of the Deutsche that it's hard to quantify all the tension. First off, there is the Fed Ex Cup playoff that will conclude with the BMW Championship and Players Championship and will leave someone $10 million richer in two weeks. At the bottom of that FedEx list were the 70th and 71st ranked players, one thrilled to continue playing next week, the other disappointed and heading home. There was Charley Hoffman, 13-under after eight holes, going 8-over the next nine holes only to save his FedEx spot by sinking a par putt on the 18th.
Any of that joy and disappointment, of course, was mild compared to the seven players in the hunt for Davis Love's Ryder Cup captain's picks. With eight already on the U.S. team, Love made the phone calls Monday night to the lucky four and unlucky three. The betting was on Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk and against Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler. But we'll see.
Yeah, there was plenty of nail-biting going on, plenty of guys wanting to chomp down on their putters.
"I'll be tuning in like the rest of you [for the formal Ryder Cup selection announcement in New York Tuesday]," said McIlroy, who'll be on the other side the last week in September at Medinah just outside of Chicago. "Davis has got such a tough job on his hands. I wouldn't want to be in Davis' position."
But ask yourself this: Who wouldn't want to be in McIlroy's position today?
With plenty on the line Sunday, tipping in that par putt on 18 not only gave him a one-stroke victory over Louis Oosthuizen and a $1.44 million check, it put McIlroy in first place in the FedEx Cup points race and provided him with a larger cushion atop the world rankings. By tying Tiger Woods with his third PGA Tour victory of the year, McIlroy, who also has that eight-stroke rout at the PGA Championship on his resume, went a long way toward winning Player of the Year honors in a vote of his peers.
And, oh yeah, his always radiant girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki was in town this weekend after her loss in the U.S. Open. Yeah, it's good to be a 23-year-old freckle-faced kid from Northern Ireland these days.
"Caroline has been to two events this year and I've won both of them," said McIlroy, who erased a three-stroke deficit to Oosthuizen in the first five holes Monday. "So I need to get her to more. It's nice to have someone with you that you can completely just clear your mind of what's going on here."
Unlike Tiger, who took such great pains to hide his double life that he even named his yacht "Privacy," McIlroy seems to enjoy the spark of the celebrity couple — "Wozzilroy," as he has christened them. Good for him.
Only, by design, not too good.
"I think I've learned to handle winning big events and carrying myself forward," McIlroy said. "There's a time and place to celebrate and to enjoy what you've done. Playoffs isn't that time."
So he'll bear down and head to Crooked Stick for the BMW Monday, push for the FedEx title and only when the Ryder Cup is over will he relax.
"Then I'll look back and celebrate," McIlroy said.
Asked if he fell into that trap after his first major victory, the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, McIlory said, "A little. I took three weeks off, did a lot of media things, celebrated a bit before for the [British] Open. I had a lot going on. I probably didn't handle it the best."
There's something eminently likable about McIlroy. He has a real respect for the game, yet he's not afraid to laugh and have fun. As much publicity as Wozzilroy has gotten … the truth of the matter is that Wozniacki's keen attention to conditioning has rubbed off on McIlroy. He clearly has grown stronger and fitter over the past 18 months.
"He's not world No. 1 for nothing," Oosthuizen said. "He's a great young talent, a lot of majors left for him to win. He's such a cool kid, cool guy on the course. It's great playing with him."
On Saturday, there was Rory pulling out his cellphone and pretending to interview Tiger alongside the media. On Sunday, he broke out laughing when asked about the Oosthuizen doppelganger following the final pairing.
"My caddie said he looked just like me," Oosthuizen said.
"The guy did have the gap in his teeth [like Louis]," McIlroy said, "which I thought was so funny. He was following the whole way around."
Unfortunately for Oosthuizen, he didn't always look like himself Sunday. He played part of the round bothered by some pectoral pain that moved up his right shoulder toward his neck. After birdieing eight of his first 10 holes on Sunday, shooting a 29 on the front nine, Oosthuizen said his front nine Monday felt like a 47. It was a 37, but he never overcame a slow start. He had his chance on 17 when McIlroy got into trouble. The shot that the South African wanted back was his second on 17, a soft 9-iron from 140 yards. He got the shot right, he said, but he got the wind completely wrong. If he had been able to sink an 11-foot par putt, he would have put big-time pressure on McIlroy. He missed. McIlroy sank his five-foot putt for a bogey.
On 18, after McIlroy's ball had hung on the lip on the par-5 18th, McIlroy bit into his putter. He was preparing himself for a playoff. Oosthuizen examined his putt from 15 feet. It was so quiet he could hear advice.
"You could hear all the commentators in the crowd saying what the putt would do, so after putting that aside and reading it properly, I wanted to hit it more than I read," Oosthuizen said. "But even if I putted exactly where I read it, it didn't do much, which was amazing. If I hit it again, I'd probably miss it exactly on the same side."
This was a big-time leader board … McIlory [20-under], Oosthuizen [19-under], Tiger [18-under], Phil Mickelson [14-under]. Major winners everywhere, but on this day in 2012, nobody was better than the freckle-faced kid from Northern Ireland.
"This has been a big year for me," McIlroy said.
A very big year.