Rory McIlroy keen to end barren run as he begins FedEx defence

Four-time Major winner will take extended break after October’s Dunhill Links

 Rory McIlroy begins the defence of his FedEx Cup title at the  Northern Trust Open in New York on Thursday. Photograph:  Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy begins the defence of his FedEx Cup title at the Northern Trust Open in New York on Thursday. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy admits internal and external pressures led him to decide against sitting out the rest of the season to rest a persistent rib injury.

But the four-time Major winner believes his plans for a lengthy break from October can be the catalyst for an even more successful second half of his career.

Speaking after a tie for 22nd in the US PGA Championship which completed a third successive year without a Major title, McIlroy said he was in two minds about competing again in 2017.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” McIlroy, who has played just 13 events this season, said after a closing 68 at Quail Hollow. “You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks’ time.”

After seeking the advice of sports scientist Steve McGregor in Northern Ireland, McIlroy was told he could not make the injury any worse and will try to win the overall FedEx Cup title – and $10 million (€8.5 million) bonus – for the second year in succession.

The 28-year-old will then play the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland with his father Gerry from October 5th-8th before calling time on his 2017 season in a bid to get fully fit for the new campaign.

“I was unsure and I came pretty close to deciding to wait and get myself healthy but I still have a lot of time after these events to do that and I feel like I am capable of winning,” McIlroy told a press conference ahead of the Northern Trust Open.

“There was definitely external pressures [to play] but I think the real thing for me was I want to win at least once before the end of the year.

“I haven’t not won a tournament since the 2008 season, which was my real rookie season on the European Tour. Even in 2013 when I struggled I went down to Australia at the end of the year and won.

“I’m excited for it, to have three months where I can focus on myself, my health, my game and just improvement. I don’t think I’m ever going to get a chance like this in my career again. I feel like it’s a tremendous opportunity to improve as a golfer and with my health and everything.

“We have a three-month plan going forward. I’m getting a lot of assessments and testing done on the 19th and 20th of October and from there all we’ll be focusing on is getting me in the best possible shape with my body and my game going into 2018.”

McIlroy, who was set to meet with statistics guru Mark Broadie immediately after his press conference to see which areas of his game most need improvement, added: “I just want to be healthy and have zero distractions.

“It will be 10 years since I was a pro and I feel like all there is is clear road ahead of us from now until 2030 for example.

“If I can work hard, look after myself, practice the right way and have the right people around me there is no reason that I can’t have a more successful 10 years than the 10 I’ve just had. That’s really what I’m focusing on.”

While McIlroy has yet to win a tournament this season, four players who have won multiple times are battling to be named PGA Tour player of the year at the end of the playoffs.

British Open champion Jordan Spieth, US PGA winner Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson are the leading contenders and Spieth would love to beat close friend Thomas to the title.

“I think it’s a close race right now,” Spieth said. “It’s a tremendous honour. You’re the MVP of the league and when you put it that way it’s something that you want really badly.

“It’s a fight and something that is keeping me going out and grinding at the end of a really good season.”

LOWDOWN

Course: Glen Oaks Club, Old Westbury, Long Island, New York

Length: 7,350 yards

Par: 70

Field: 120 (Five qualifiers withdrew)

Prize money: $8.75 million ($1.53 million to the winner)

Course overview: This year’s Northern Trust is the maiden US Tour event to be held at Glen Oaks, a course which has been nicknamed the Augusta of the north. The course underwent a major renovation in 2011, with the redesign featuring well-kept, generous fairways – and like Augusta the bunkers are deep and filled with the whitest of sand. The greens are heavily undulating, firm and fast – meaning solid approach play will be paramount. The course is split into three lots of nine holes – the White, Blue and Red. The whole of the Blue course will be used, as well as holes one to three and six to nine on the White and four and five of the Red. The third and 13th are the only par fives on the course, while the 230-yard second and 235-yard 17th are tough par threes.

Irish in action: Rory McIlroy (12.53pm Irish time today; 5.33pm tomorrow)

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 7.0pm

Weather: Good, with sunshine and minimal breezes forecast

Key attributes: The wide fairways mean errant play off the tee will be forgiven, but with plenty of par fours and tricky greens second-shot accuracy will be key.

FedEx play-off rules: The top 100 will qualify for the next FedEx Cup event (Dell Championship in Boston). The field will then be trimmed to 70 (BMW Championship), with 30 players contesting the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

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