McIlroy still has it all to do

Tue, Sep 18, 2012, 01:00

RORY McILROY’S quest for a $10 million windfall – the bonus paid to whoever tops the US Tour’s FedEx Cup series – is no done deal. Far from it, in fact.

Although the 23-year-old Ulsterman has been the dominant player in the first three of the four play-off tournaments, the contrived nature of the system is such that he could finish runner-up in this week’s defining Tour Championship and lose out on the jackpot; or, he could finish 29th in the 30-man field and still collect the 10 million greenbacks. The mathematical intricacies of the play-offs have been fixed for effect, to make the final showdown just that: a final examination with maximum clout.

So, McIlroy’s back-to-back wins in the Deutsche Bank championship and the BMW championship – the second and third legs of the series – and his attempts for a three-timer of successive wins make him the player in pole position going into the deciding tournament but that winning run is offset by the fact that the points won to date have been restructured to open up the field of potential winners of the bonus jackpot.

Ultimately, though, McIlroy controls his own destiny from the point of view that, should he continue his winning hot streak and add the Tour Championship to his stellar season, he also scoops the FedEx Cup. Indeed, that same scenario fits any one of the players in the top-five heading to the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. McIlroy may be the man to catch but any one of Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson or Brandt Snedeker could tie-up the huge bonus prize by securing a win in the play-off finale.

McIlroy, the world number one, has been in supreme form of late. He followed up his win in the US PGA at Kiawah Island – where he claimed a second career Major – with a 24th-place finish in the first of the FedEx Cup tournaments at the Barclays before going on to win back-to-back at the Deutsche Bank and the BMW.

Since then, McIlroy has spent time in New York – including a guest appearance on the Jimmy Fallon Show which broadcasts on NBC where he agreed with the TV host that he was “the greatest” player in the world – and will make a debut appearance at East Lake.

McIlroy – one of five European Ryder Cup players in the field in Atlanta, along with Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia – has admitted that his winning streak has become “normal”.

Of his current streak, McIlroy said: “The more you put yourself in position and the more you win and the more you pick up trophies, it feels like this is what you’re supposed to do . . . I don’t think I am quite there yet, but I’m getting to that stage where I’m thinking, ‘this is what I should be doing. I should be lifting a trophy at the end of the week’ . . . I feel like it’s just coming to me naturally. I just want to try and keep this run going and keep the confidence level up where it is.”

McIlroy’s season moved up a notch since claiming that second Major at the PGA to add to his 2011 US Open success. The Northern Irishman won the Honda Classic in Florida back in March before hitting a mini-slump that saw him miss the cut five times on either side of the Atlantic, including the Players championship and the BMW PGA at Wentworth.

In reflecting on those days at the start of the summer as “a lifetime”, McIlroy has made the point that it also taught him some lessons. “You can’t get that frustrated. You just have to stay patient because it can turn around at any moment and at any time. If I ever struggle again, which I’m sure I will in the future, I can draw on that memory and know that if I keep working hard and have patience that it will turn around eventually.”

McIlroy – who made the decision after Wentworth to bring Michael Bannon, his coach since he was seven years of age, out on the road with him – has been a different player over the past two months. He has copper-fastened his grip on the world number one spot and, a year after sitting in a Dutch hotel watching the FedEx Cup on television and deciding that he’d recommit to the US Tour, has put himself in position to claim Player of the Year awards stateside.

More immediately, McIlroy has his eyes set on the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup and he understands why the points were readjusted to open up the list of prospective winners of the $10 million bonus. “It’s what it’s all about, makes it more exciting.” The format was changed after Vijay Singh’s win in 2008, when his two play-off wins meant he arrived in Atlanta assured of the FedEx Cup.

The play-offs were first introduced into the US Tour’s season in 2007 – when Tiger Woods was the inaugural winner – and, since then, Singh (2008), Woods (2009), Jim Furyk (2010) and Bill Hass (2011) have claimed the huge bonus pot.

FedEx Cup: The permutations

Rory McIlroy will win if . . .

– he wins the Tour Championship

– he finishes ahead of Woods, Watney, Mickelson, Snedeker

– has a reasonable chance of winning with a top-five finish

– can finish as low as 29th and still have a mathematical chance of winning

Tiger Woods will win if . . . .

– he wins the Tour Championship

– has a reasonable chance of winning with a top-three finish

– can finish as low as a five-way tie for fifth and still have a mathematical chance of winning

Nick Watney will win if . . .

– he wins the Tour Championship

– has a reasonable chance with a second-place finish

– can finish as low as fourth and still have a mathematical chance of winning

Phil Mickelson will win if . . .

– he wins the Tour Championship

– has a reasonable chance with a second-place finish

– can finish as low as third and still have a mathematical chance of winning

Brandt Snedeker will win if . . .

– he wins the Tour Championship

– can finish as low as tied-second and have a mathematical chance of winning.

(Any of the top five will win the FedEx Cup with a victory. The remaining 25 can still win, depending on the performances of the top players)

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