Rory McIlroy bidding to end season on a high

Four-time Major winner fit enough to tee it up in the first of the FedEx Cup playoffs

 Henrik Stenson reacts after making a putt on the 17th hole during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina. Photograph:  Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Henrik Stenson reacts after making a putt on the 17th hole during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina. Photograph: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy is due to attend a gig in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx district of New York on Tuesday evening that will entail hitting some golf balls from a corporate suite out onto the famed diamond, a duty which will provide some evidence of the Northern Irishman’s health.

That he will be involved in such a marketing event and, more pertinently, that he will tee up at this week’s The Northern Trust – the first of the PGA Tour’s megabucks FedEx Cup playoffs – would indicate that all is rather well with his troublesome rib/back/arm injury, at least sufficiently well for the proposed eight-week break to be deferred until the winter months.

McIlroy’s performances in the equivalent playoffs a year ago led to him hitting the jackpot, as he walked away with the $10 million bonus for winning the PGA Tour’s playoff series. Back then, he was ranked 36th in the standings ahead of the first of four tournaments that rounded off the season; this time, he is only marginally worse positioned, in 44th place: so, all to play for; but, of course, also depending on how that back holds up.

What we know is that McIlroy tends to get hot at this time of the year and is actually the all-time leader in terms of wins in the FedEx Cup: he has four (two Dell Technologies championships in 2012 and 2016, the BMW Championship in 2012 and the Tour Championship last year). Tiger Woods (3), Dustin Johnson (3), Jason Day (2), Billy Horschel (2), Henrik Stenson (2), Phil Mickelson (2) and Camilo Villegas (2) are the only other multiple winners of these prized end-of-season tournaments.

McIlroy – who will again have Harry Diamond on the bag after his friend caddied for him at the Bridgestone and the US PGA – is without a tournament win so far this season, in what has been a disrupted campaign due to that rib injury sustained in South Africa back in January and which reoccurred at The Players in May. But perhaps he can take some heart or even inspiration from Stenson’s own timely return to form in the Wyndham Championship.

In what was his first tournament win since his success in last year’s British Open, Stenson – like McIlroy a past winner of the FedEx Cup – kept a driver out of his bag at the Wyndham and relied on his strong 3-wood primarily off the tee.

World rankings

“It’s certainly a good time to start firing. We know the kind of damage you can do during the playoffs when the points are up to four times the normal season, so if you get hot and keep on playing well, there’s certainly a chance to challenge for the overall . . . . (if) we want to get close to winning it again, we have to carry on and keep on playing very solid,” said Stenson, who moved from ninth to sixth in the latest world rankings.

With one win, Stenson turned a solid season – he’d finished 11th at the British Open, 17th at the Bridgestone and 13th at the US PGA in recent weeks – into a good one.

“This puts a nice twist to it, that’s for sure . . . . we just upped it a notch. The Wyndham is a week where a lot of guys are playing with a lot of pressure to keep their cards and move into the FedEx and I obviously didn’t have any pressure in that sense but, of course, you feel that little edge there when you have a chance to win and that’s what we play and practice for.”

Stenson added: “I still have the drive. I love this game, I love to practice and compete. I don’t know how many more years I have in this game but as long as I’m healthy and as long as I’m playing good and feeling competitive I’m sure I’ll be out here.

“I can see maybe playing one, two tournaments less in the future.....this is what we dream about doing as kids and I love the competition, you know, being out there, feeling the nerves and you want to hit the shots when they matter the most. I’m certainly hungry to win golf tournaments.”

This is the 11th instalment of the FedEx Cup playoffs, with the series set to move to an earlier date in August come 2019 when the US PGA switches to a new slot in May in the calendar. Interestingly, six of the previous 10 winners have occupied places inside the top-10 in the standings at the outset of the playoffs: the exceptions were Bill Haas (who was 15th heading into the playoffs in 2011), Brandt Snedeker (19th in 2012), Billy Horschel (69th in 2014) and McIlroy (36th in 2016).

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