Without a win for eight months, the Co Down man (33) claimed his 21st PGA Tour win with his much-questioned wedge game key to it all as he closed with an eight-under 62 to win by two shots from Tony Finau and by four from Thomas on 19-under par.
"This is a day I will remember for a long long time. It’s my 21st PGA tour win, one more than someone else,” McIlroy said in what seemed a thinly veiled reference to LIV Golf’s Greg Norman.
"That gave me a little bit of extra incentive today and I’m happy to get it done.”
"It’s incredible playing with Tony and JT today, two the best players in the world and just to play the way we did,” he added.
"I think the worst score in the group was six under par.”
On a day when Justin Rose needed three pars for a 59 and finished bogey-par-bogey for a 60 and fourth place on 14-under, Shane Lowry made an eagle and five birdies in a 66 to share 10th on nine-under.
But the real fireworks came from McIlroy, Thomas and Finau, who put on a show in the final group that made a mockery of the insipid LIV Golf fare of the previous three days as PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was quick to point out in a CBS interview.
Defending his decision to suspend 17 players for teeing it up at the Centurion Club without releases, Monahan pulled no punches was asked why players can’t play both tours.
“Why do they need us so badly? Because those players have chosen to sign multi-year lucrative contracts to play in a series of exhibition matches against the same players over and over again,” Monahan said.
“You look at that versus what we see here today, and that’s why they need us so badly. You’ve got true, pure competition. The best players in the world are here at the RBC Canadian Open, with millions of fans watching, and in this game, it’s true and pure competition that creates the profile in the presence of the world’s greatest players.”
Tied for the overnight lead with Finau, McIlroy birdied eight of his first 12 holes.
He set the tone by ramming in a 25 footer at the first, fired a 200-yard approach to four feet at the fourth, chipped in for a two at the sixth and fired a wedge to four feet at the seventh to move two clear of Finau and Wyndham Clark and three ahead of Thomas.
He added another birdie at the ninth to lead Thomas by two but while the man from Kentucky birdied the 10th and 11th for a run of six birdies in a row, McIlroy extended his lead to three by following birdies at the 10th and 11th with a 40 footer for his fourth in a row at the 12th before wobbling down the stretch.
After missing a three and a half footer for par at the 13th, he had to get up and down from 106 yard at the 14th to remain one ahead but then bogeyed the 16th to allow Thomas to draw level.
It all changed at the 17th, however, as Thomas made bogey after a wild drive McIlroy hit a wedge to 30 inches to go two clear.
Another wedge to four feet at the 18th set up another birdie for a win worth $1,566,000, taking his career earnings to $64 million.
"I think after Covid I just needed to reset,” finished McIlroy, who moves up five spots to third in the world.
"I sort of re-dedicated myself to the game a little bit and realised what made me happy and this makes me happy.
“So I just put the work in. I’ve got a great team around me and they’re behind me 100% and make it easier for me to just go and do things like I did today.
"It feels great. I knew I had to go out there today and play really really well. You’ve got JT and Tony, two of the best players in the world right alongside me and the way the wind was the last couple of days the golf course obviously played a lot easier than I did the first two days.
"So I knew that five, six, seven under was going to be the score I needed to get the job done. It's awesome to be back in the winners circle in front of all those people and all those crowds and it was a really cool day.”
As for Monahan, he was predictably upbeat about the PGA Tour’s future and unrepentant for suspending 17 players last week.
“It’s been an unfortunate week that was created by some unfortunate decisions, those decisions being players choosing to violate our tournament regulations,” Monahan said.
“It’s my job to protect, defend, and celebrate our loyal PGA Tour members, our partners and our fans. And that’s exactly what I did. And I don’t think it was a surprise to anybody.”
More to follow...