FedEx Cup finale hit by top rank defections

Stenson cites fatigue as reason for poster boys’ withdrawal from Tour Championship

Rory McIlroy: After twice four-putting at the weekend the world number one said: “I don’t know if it’s fatigue. I don’t know if I’ve lost concentration.” Photograph: Stew Milne/AP

Rory McIlroy: After twice four-putting at the weekend the world number one said: “I don’t know if it’s fatigue. I don’t know if I’ve lost concentration.” Photograph: Stew Milne/AP

 

If there are those in golf’s corridors of power in the United States scratching their heads in bewilderment that this week’s Tour Championship is missing so many of the sport’s poster boys then another question for them to ponder is why so many players should reach the tournament in such a fatigued state.

The event is the finale to the FedEx Cup play-off series, but there will be no Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson; and no Henrik Stenson to defend his title, among others.

On missing out on the elite 30 places available – or, rather, 29 who will actually tee up in Atlanta this week given that Dustin Johnson is also absent – there didn’t seem to be any great regret on Stenson’s part, who said: “I finally get a bit of a break. I think it’s hard for the crowds sometimes to understand what we go through with the schedule . . . if you want to perform at the very highest level, at your peak, you’ve got to get the rest and practice in. You can’t play every week.”

All of which is true, of course, although there is unlikely to be too much sympathy generated in his direction from golf fans considering the huge purses and bonuses on offer for what is supposed to be a coveted week in the calendar for any of the elite.

The FedEx Cup series was designed to get the cream of the crop to the final pitstop. That’s not happening. And that Stenson – who last year scooped the $10 million (€8 million) jackpot bonus for winning the FedEx Cup on top of $1.4 million for his

Tour Championship success – should be almost relieved not to have to make the trip to Atlanta so that he can rest up ahead of the Ryder Cup, where players pay for nothing but the honour, would seem to undermine what the PGA Tour imagined in setting up the road to the Tour Championship.

As it happens, Rory McIlroy – the world number one – is one of those in dire need of a wee break but unable, up to now, to find the time for one.

The Ulster man will have played eight out of 10 weeks when the Tour Championship finishes, leaving him just a week off before heading into the Ryder Cup with a big target on his back as the Americans seek to bring him down in much the same way as Europe in the past made Tiger Woods a marked man.

McIlroy’s schedule has been as exhausting as anyone’s these past couple of months: since July, it has taken in the Scottish Open, the British Open, a week off, the Bridgestone Invitational, the US PGA, a week off, the Barclays, the Deutsche Bank, the BMW, the Tour Championship. In that time, he has become the game’s dominant player, rising to the top of the US Tour’s money list (for what it is worth these days with the FedEx Cup points resetting considered the more important) and a runaway leader of the Race to Dubai.

This week, McIlroy is one of those players competing at East Lake who at least knows that destiny in is in his own hands. Any one of the top five in the standings would be assured of the $10 million bonus payout if he should also win the Tour Championship. McIlroy is fourth in the standings.

Yet, there is a question about fatigue taking a toll. Sergio Garcia – who ran up a triple-bogey eight late on in his final round – said afterwards that fatigue was a factor in his decision making and his shot execution. Garcia, it should be pointed out, had benefited from a week off after missing the previous week’s Deutsche Bank championship in Boston.

So, was fatigue also a consideration in McIlroy twice four-putting over the weekend? “I don’t know if it’s fatigue. I don’t know if I’ve lost concentration . . . hopefully I can just keep it together a little bit more in Atlanta,” said McIlroy.

The world number one at least knows what to expect and how things can unfold in the FedEx Cup finale.

Two years ago, he arrived into Atlanta occupying the number one spot only to fall back to fourth in the final standings as Brandt Snedeker – another absentee this time – won the tournament and also jumped to the top of the standings to take the jackpot on offer.

This time, McIlroy is the one wanting to do the leapfrogging.

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