Rory McIlroy will have to live with an American “bullseye on his back” at the Ryder Cup, according to three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington.
Jim Furyk upped the ante last week when he described McIlroy as a “marked man” and Harrington insists that such attention is something the Holywood ace will have to live with at Medinah this week.
“All they're basically doing is substituting Rory for Tiger,” Padraig explained. “We Europeans would always put a bullseye on Tiger's back and the Americans are doing the same to Rory.
“For sure, if they manage to beat Rory, it'll make it harder for Europe to win, but it doesn't mean they will win the Ryder Cup.”
Harrington believes that McIlroy and compatriot Graeme McDowell have a big part to play in the destination of the biennial tournament and he expects the pair to start together in the first morning's foursomes.
“You could put your house on that, while you'd be surprised if they were split up in the afternoon fourballs,” the Dubliner said.
Harrington is disappointed not to be part of the team, but he is looking forward to watching the action, which he expects will go right down to the wire.
At the moment, he is leaning towards a home victory, though he added: “The US (players) were very strong in the summer but now it all seems to have evened itself out going into the match.”
There were no complaints or tantrums from McIlroy at the weekend. Instead, he showed he knows how to lose with good grace.
McIlroy, (23), extended hearty congratulations to Brandt Snedeker, saying he “really deserved to win” the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. He chided himself for hitting only 23 of 56 fairways all week at East Lake, including just three on Sunday, then joked: “So I'm glad Davis Love has told them to cut the rough at Medinah.”
Yet McIlroy's magnanimity should not obscure a patent flaw with the FedEx Cup points system, which failed to give him full credit due for brilliant back-to-back wins at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships.
Snedeker, (31), performed brilliantly in Atlanta to claim the $1.44m first prize at the Tour Championship.
Should we not be disturbed, however, to see a guy who won twice and posted five top-10s claim the PGA Tour's top honour and a $10m bonus cheque when the man in second, McIlroy, registered four victories — including two in the FedEx Cup play-offs — and nine other top-10s?
Under a system devised to keep the FedEx Cup race alive through the Tour Championship, the points were recast before Atlanta, cutting McIlroy's unassailable lead to a mere trifle entering the season finale.
It all harks back to 2008 when Vijay Singh won two FedEx Cup play-offs and just had to turn up in Atlanta, pop the FedEx Cup in the trunk and drive home. The new system is a marketing man's dream but sporting lunacy.
Forget about points for a minute and look at a more accurate arbiter of performance on Tour: scores against par. McIlroy was 42-under for his 16 rounds in the four season-ending play-offs.
He finished five clear of Dustin Johnson (-37), six ahead of Tiger Woods (-36), while Snedeker was fourth (-35). No question, Snedeker won fair and square last Sunday under the current rules and adroitly dismissed a question about McIlroy winning two play-offs to his one by saying: “Life is all about timing!”
Yet one has to question a points system at odds with reality.
Still, McIlroy was well paid for his trouble, earning $3m for second place in the FedEx bonus pool and $200,000 in a tie for 10th in the Tour Championship. This boosted this year's earnings on the golf course to just over $11.4m and his career prize money worldwide in five years to nearly $25m. To his credit, Snedeker found it mind-boggling to win $11.4m in a weekend.
“I'm not by any means a flashy guy. Of anybody, I know I do not need $11.4m. It's unbelievable,” said the Tennessee native, who won't even buy himself a new car.
“I've had a car four-and-a-half years and it's got just 24,000 miles on it. So why do I need a new car?”
Filling the horizon, however, is his first Ryder Cup. He endorsed his reputation as America's best putter in Atlanta and proved that he can win on the big stage.