Thursday 22 February 2018

McIlroy bids to get back into the FedEx fast lane

Rory McIlroy chats with Sergio Garcia between the 11th tee and 18th tee during the pro-am of the BMW Championship in Chicago
Rory McIlroy chats with Sergio Garcia between the 11th tee and 18th tee during the pro-am of the BMW Championship in Chicago

James Corrigan

Rory McIlroy has been stunning the golf world ever since he picked up a club and now he has even shocked himself. Alas, he has done so for all the wrong reasons.

A year ago, McIlroy had his eyes squarely on the FedEx Cup's $10m (€7.5m) jackpot having won both the BMW Championship and the preceding week's Deutsche Bank Championship. Twelve months on and he is scrabbling around for a ticket simply to make the big giveaway.

Down in 41st in the standings, McIlroy is in danger of not qualifying for the Tour Championship in Atlanta next week. Enduring a Major-less season is one thing, but to McIlroy failing to make the top 30 of the PGA Tour would be quite another.

"If someone had asked me at the start of the year: 'Would you be more surprised at not winning a Major or not getting to the Tour Championship?' of course I would have said the latter," McIlroy said.

"The Majors are based on one week, four times a year when a lot of things have to go your way. But over the course of the season, I feel like I should play well enough to get to East Lake. I didn't expect to be in this position. I have left myself with more to do than I wanted."

The maths are complex, but McIlroy estimates he requires a top-seven finish in the 70-man field here at Conway Farms boasting the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the world's hottest player, Henrik Stenson. Seventh might not seem too lofty an ambition, yet it would happen to be his best performance in his past dozen events and his second best of the entire year.

Incredible

The fact that McIlroy cannot boast a win in 2013 seems incredible when one recalls the young man who brought the game to his knees with a run to last Christmas which featured four wins, including a Major, in his last eight events. What he would give for a similar run-in this time.

"I still have eight tournaments left this season and it will be all about trying to get the most out of them and at least trying to finish the year on a high, so I can go into next season with a little bit of momentum and a few positive feelings," he said. "But I'm not looking past this week. A win will take care of a lot of things and will actually give me a good chance of winning the FedEx. One week could turn it all around."

Indeed, it would. Naturally, the $10m would be welcome – even for McIlroy, who, it was announced yesterday, will once again participate in a multi-million-dollar shoot-out with Tiger Woods in China in October – but the relief it would bring would be priceless.

The doubters would stop carping on about his €90m switch to Nike, the cynics would cease bringing up his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki and the impending split with his second management company in two years would seem a trifle. As Woods has to commented, "winning fixes everything."

However, McIlroy clearly needs to fix so much before he is acclaimed again as the golden child. The good news is that after intense training in the Bahamas last week, he feels he has identified the problem.

"I'm driving the ball better, I'm hitting a few more greens – they aren't the issues," he said. "I'm just not getting up and down as well as I used to and so all I did in the Bahamas was concentrate on the short game.

"I've had eight double-bogeys in the two FedEx play-offs so far and I want to finish the play-offs having taken eight double-bogeys," he added. "They came about because of sloppiness around the greens. I have to eradicate that."

Watching him in the pro-am, conjuring a five-wood from a plugged lie in a bunker and hurtling the ball towards the green, reminded one of what a talent he possesses. The last time he was in Chicago, McIlroy required a speeding police officer to ensure he made the first tee in the Ryder Cup. For McIlroy, the chase is on again in the Windy City and it's no less frantic.

Meanwhile, the presence of global soccer star and national idol Andriy Shevchenko on the timesheet has transformed the Challenge Tour's inaugural Kharkov Superior Cup from a mere curiosity into a major sporting occasion in his native Ukraine.

The former Milan, Chelsea and Dynamo Kiev star, who has whittled his handicap down to two since taking up golf just 10 years ago, goes into his first professional tour event today hoping to make the weekend cut.

"Golf is something much more than just sport, it's about attitude and so many other things put together, this is why I like it," said the 36-year-old. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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