Rory McIlroy needs Dustin Johnson to slip or he'll lose out on the FedEx Cup and €9m payday
Rory McIlroy's chances of securing a payday of 11.5million US dollars suffered an early double blow in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
With only the top five at East Lake in full control of their own destiny, sixth-placed McIlroy knew he had to win the final event of the PGA Tour season and see other results go his way to claim the overall FedEx Cup title and USD10million bonus.
However, after recovering from three-putting the first hole with three birdies in succession from the third, the four-time major winner then double-bogeyed the seventh and eighth to fall down the leaderboard.
McIlroy, who is the only member of Europe's Ryder Cup team competing in the 30-man event, hit a poor chip to the seventh and compounded the mistake with another three-putt, before finding water with his approach to the next.
A two-over-par front nine of 37 left the 27-year-old six shots off the lead being shared by Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell, but also five behind FedEx Cup leader Dustin Johnson. Even if Johnson were to finish second outright, it would be enough to end McIlroy's FedEx Cup chances.
US Open champion Johnson, who won the BMW Championship a fortnight ago, had birdied three of his first six holes as nearest rival and playing partner Patrick Reed recovered from two early bogeys to get back to level par.
Johnson and Reed were among eight members of the United States Ryder Cup team in the field, with captain Davis Love naming his final wild card after the tournament finishes on Sunday evening.
World number seven Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger are the favourites to be selected, but Berger failed to make a good first impression after struggling to an opening four-over-par 74.
Two-time Masters champion Watson fared slightly better with a 72 after dropping shots on the 16th and 17th, with Thomas one over after 13 holes.
England's Paul Casey, who began the week fifth in the standings, reached two under par after birdies on the fourth and fifth, but drove into the water on the eighth to run up a double bogey and dropped another shot on the 10th.