Rory McIlroy sang Journey in New Orleans. He also won the golf tournament

NEW ORLEANS – Rory McIlroy stands on TPC Louisiana's 19th green stage with a beer in one hand and a microphone in the other. He has Mardi Gras beads around his neck and stands next to one of his best friends, Shane Lowry, and the drunk New Orleans crowd continues to sing.

“Rory! Rory! Rory!”

“Do you know songs from the 80s?” the bandleader asks.

And then Journey starts playing.

The four-time Major champion sang “Don't Stop Believing” early Sunday night, throwing his head back to put his heart in the notes. Lowry just laughed and drank his beer as he watched his friend embarrass himself. As he walked away moments later, Lowry answered why he didn't participate: “I would have sung a lot better.”

McIlroy just won a golf tournament. And he had to win a golf tournament. But much, much more than anything he needed on a scorecard, he needed this week. McIlroy had to have fun.

This all started with a “really drunken lunch” after their Ryder Cup victory last fall. McIlroy asked Lowry if they could team up for the Zurich Classic, the PGA Tour's only team event. Lowry has played this event before, but for fear of rejection he never asked McIlroy to collaborate. McIlroy sent Lowry a Christmas text to confirm. He came to New Orleans.

Fast forward to Saturday night, and just off Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, at a classic white-tablecloth Creole restaurant called Arnaud's, McIlroy and Lowry received a standing ovation from the other guests. This isn't even a casual weekend in Louisiana. It's Jazz Festival. It's NFL Draft week. The Pelicans are in the playoffs. Still, people were so excited to have the No. 2 player in the world that they filled TPC Louisiana with the biggest galleries anyone can remember and cheered them on in restaurants. A TV reporter joked that the last athlete to receive that was Reggie Bush almost 20 years ago.

“It was weird for me,” Lowry said. “Things like that don't happen to me.”

“That won't happen to me either!” McIlroy joked.

“He's getting old,” Lowry said with a cheeky grin. “But he can still move the needle a little bit. Rory brings a lot of crowd and people love him.”

A little context. McIlroy is not having a very good season. Last week it became a running gag that Scottie Scheffler's caddy, Ted Scott, will surpass McIlroy in 2024. And McIlroy has had a stressful few years. He was the face of the PGA Tour in the war with LIV and the most public member of the policy council. He was then blindsided by the fact that the PGA Tour entered into a framework agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (the owners of LIV), calling himself a “sacrificial lamb” when they sent him to speak to the media the next day speak.

He then reportedly lost a power struggle over the future of Patrick Cantlay's tour and decided to leave the board. with Sports Illustrated reporting, Cantlay and others like Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth focused more on catering to the tour's elites. McIlroy then changed his tune and campaigned for unification with LIV. He rubbed people the wrong way and publicly criticized Spieth for saying the PGA Tour didn't “need” the Saudis. He consistently made comments about the desire for money ruining the sport. He suffered a nasty incident at the Players Championship with playing partners Spieth and Viktor Hovland.

Oh, and the wave suffered. It's all relative. He's still in the top 30 almost every week, but has only finished better than 19th on the PGA Tour once all season. When he finished T22 at the Masters two weeks ago, he was asked whether he should blow up his swing and do a complete reset.

Then he went to New Orleans.

McIlroy wasn't locked up this week, at least not for most of the week. This week was about having fun with his old friend Shane. They didn't even practice when they came in on Tuesday because the course was too crowded, so they messed around on the chipping green. They barely played another shot during Wednesday's Pro-Am. They seemed to strike whenever they felt like it, walking and the rest talking. They crushed grilled oysters from Drago's on the 10th hole and teased each other.

Who knows how worried they even were when they entered the seventh hole five behind the leaders on Sunday. Yes, they are competitors and they want to win, but they just went with the flow.

Then McIlroy got hot. With an alternating shot, they birdied four of the next five holes to get one back. McIlroy dropped a cheeky little club turn he hasn't shown in years with a perfect iron shot on 14. And right around that time he clearly started wanting it more. When he put his drive into a bunker on 16, he hunched over and kept his head down in frustration for a full minute.

But don't worry. Lowry hit a perfect wedge from the bunker to the center of the green, and McIlroy hit a wide-breaking putt to take over a share of the lead.

On the par-3 17th, Lowry's tee shot flew into the crowd and later he missed a tough par putt. He was visibly disappointed in himself, but McIlroy quickly chased him off the green and said, “Hey, Shane.” That was a good move.”

“Rory is there to support me this week,” Lowry said, “and he was a great teammate, and he made me believe in myself. It was good that he could do that.”

They then made 18 birdies to send it to a play-off, and thanks to a missed putt by Martin Trainer in the play-off, McIlroy won his 25th PGA Tour tournament and Lowry earned himself a spot in the PGA's remaining signature events Tour. Teamwork.


Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry chased Chad Ramey and Martin Trainer in the Zurich Classic on Sunday. (Stephen Lew/USA Today)

Yes, maybe McIlroy was the key to victory this week, but there's a chance Lowry was the key to a much-needed week for McIlroy. Because he admitted that this week was about escaping the stress.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The reason Shane and I both started playing golf is because we thought it was fun at some point in our lives. I think it always helps if you put a little bit of that fun back into it in a week like this week.'

And when the event ended, you could see the tournament organizers celebrating the coup that saw one of the game's biggest stars win and possibly return next year to defend his title. This isn't exactly one of the bigger events on the tour. They would kill for McIlroy in the field again. So he was asked, “Has anyone started selling you on your return?”

“I don't think they have to try,” McIlroy said. “I think we'll be back.”

(Top photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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