McIlroy and McDowell have it all to play for at Conway Farms
Getting to megabucks Tour Championship shindig next week still in their own hands
Rory McIlroy has his work cut out at the BMW Championship in Chicago this week if he is to make next week’s Tour Championship, the finale to the PGA Tour’s season. Photograph: Darren Carroll/Getty Images
The number-crunching which goes into the makeup of the sFedEx Cup rankings are probably best ignored by Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who head into this week’s BMW Championship at Conway Farms, outside Chicago, with jobs to do if they are to progress into next week’s Tour Championship, the finale to the PGA Tour’s season.
Rather than engage in mathematical possibilities, both would probably be better served playing their own games, one shot at a time, knowing that qualifying for the megabucks shindig is still in their own hands.
If a year is a long time in politics, McIlroy – who 12 months ago won the BMW to go back-to-back having also won the Deutsche Bank championship – is still looking to find the spark to ignite his season.
And the 24-year-old Ulsterman heads into the BMW, the third of the FedEx Cup play-off series, in the knowledge he has to deliver and there is no safety net.
The long and the short of it is McIlroy, if he is to make it to the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, must finish inside the top eight to be guaranteed his place in the 30- man field for the tour finale.
Depending on other results, it is possible that anything from 11th to as high as a 20th place finish could be sufficient.
If McIlroy is to take destiny into his own hands, a top-eight has to be his goal.
A win would see him jump as high as fourth. McIlroy heads into the BMW in 41st position.
Likewise for McDowell, it is a case of delivering or missing out on Atlanta.
McDowell is currently 48th in the FedEx Cup standings and requires a top-five to be certain of progressing, regardless of how others perform.
The complexities, however, are such that even a top-15 could potentially be enough.
In effect, there are only 11 places up for grabs this week as the top-19 in the current rankings – from number one Henrik Stenson down to 19th-placed Bo Weekley – are set to advance regardless of how they perform this week.
Stenson moved past Tiger Woods into the top spot with his victory in the Deutsche Bank two weeks ago.
Woods, a five-time winner on tour this season, had held the top position since March.
Whilst McIlroy, seeking a first tournament win of the year, and McDowell, who has won three times this season on either side of the Atlantic, play in the 70-man event with the guarantee at least of playing four rounds, the KLM Open in Zandvoort on the European Tour will provide Kevin Phelan with his first taste of playing for pay.
Phelan, the 22-year-old from Waterford, turned professional after playing in last week’s Walker Cup and has joined Chubby Chandler’s ISM stable of players which includes Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Darren Clarke.
The Dutch tournament is the only invitation which Phelan has received so far, as he sets about chasing his tour card.
“It’s a big step, but one I am looking forward to taking,” said Phelan, who has finished his studies at North Florida University.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my amateur career and feel ISM offer the best options moving forward, considering what they have done for so many young golfers.”
Phelan intends to go to the European Tour’s qualifying school at the end of the season in his quest to claim a full tour card for 2014, although there remains the possibility of further invitations in the weeks ahead.
Chandler has been “impressed” with Phelan’s achievements in the amateur ranks, which included making the cut at this year’s US Open at Merion. “I am sure he will go as far as he wants to in golf,” added Chandler.
Phelan’s Walker Cup commitments have meant a late arrival in Amsterdam but he has scheduled a practice round with Shane Lowry for this afternoon.
Phelan and Lowry are joined by a strong Irish contingent that includes Pádraig Harrington, who still occupies the 60th and last automatic position in the Race to Dubai qualifying, Simon Thornton, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Paul McGinley, Gareth Maybin and David Higgins.
Whilst Harrington is fighting to stay inside the top-60 that will make it to Dubai in November for the season-ending DP World Championship, there is a different sort of pressure on Higgins, who is fighting to retain his tour card for next season. Higgins is 166th on the money list, with the top-110 keeping the precious card.
Gareth Shaw, meanwhile, is the only Irish player competing in the Kharkov Superior Cup on the Challenge Tour this week.
The Ulsterman has travelled to Ukraine in 60th position on the money list. There are only four regular events left on the Challenge Tour before the top-45 on the order of merit move on to contest the Grand Final in Dubai, where the top-15 will claim full tour cards for 2014.