Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Rory McIlroy sets his sights on banking $10m bonus

Man in a hurry: Rory McIlroy races down to one of the greens during yesterday’s pro am event
Man in a hurry: Rory McIlroy races down to one of the greens during yesterday’s pro am event

Rory McIlroy walked the proverbial mile in Tiger Woods’ shoes this summer as he won The Open, his first World Championship and the US PGA in the space of four weeks — now the Holywood idol can prove he's the new top cat on the world's fairways by winning the FedEx Cup.

McIlroy tops the FedEx standings going into today's opening round of The Barclays at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey as a hot favourite to stretch his scintillating run of victories to four in a row.

A richly-deserved week off following his triumph at Valhalla took him to Manhattan for three days, then home to Northern Ireland.

He stopped off at Old Trafford on Saturday before returning to the States for the launch of Nike's new Vapor irons in New Jersey on Monday and an appearance with Woods on Jimmy Fallon's ‘Tonight Show' that evening.

So if McIlroy is in any way vulnerable going into the four-tournament FedEx finale to the US season, it's now.

Yet after getting first-hand experience in the past month of the herculean mental effort which underpinned Woods' all-conquering feats on the world's fairways, McIlroy can prove he now possesses the same predatory instincts, the same hunger as the Tiger of yore by taking up today where he left off at Valhalla.

McIlroy yesterday said he feels “uncomfortable” with suggestions that he's relieved Tiger of the torch in golf.

He said: “I know he's working his butt off to get back to where he wants to be.

“So I'm just going to keep playing my golf and play as good I can and see where that takes me,” added the World No 1. “I don't think any torch has been passed and I don't think any ever will be because I don't see myself in that way.

“I see myself as a golfer that wants to be the best that he can be. I don't see the need for me to carry any torch. I want to win golf tournaments.”

That's McIlroy's right but the rest of the world will view it differently.

For a start, his flourishing golf game, physical strength and mental resolve have combined in recent months to form such an overwhelming package, it's difficult to see anyone denying McIlroy the FedEx Cup over the next four weeks or the $10m bonus that Brandt Snedeker whipped from under his nose in 2012 in Atlanta.

After being scorched by McIlroy's after-burners on Sunday at Valhalla, Phil Mickelson, for one, insists the Ulsterman can dominate like Woods.

“It's incredible,” he said of that mercurial hat-trick at Hoylake, Firestone and Valhalla. “His level of play has been exceptional.”

As good as Woods at his pomp? “Now, from what I've seen over the years with Tiger, from 2000 if you want to compare it to that, he's got a way to go,” Mickelson surmised.

“But to win The Open and the PGA and throw a World Golf Championship in the middle is, under anybody's circumstances, a remarkable month of golf, some of the best I've seen.

“You can probably compare it to some of the Tiger stuff,” said the 44-year-old. “Though he did that over decades, I wouldn't be surprised if Rory did it, too. He's that good. He can do it.”

Mickelson clinched the last of nine automatic spots on the American Ryder Cup team with his runner-up finish at the PGA.

The left-hander's late surge into the team gives Watson valuable wriggle room as he considers his picks.

With three rookies already in his hand, the American skipper is almost certain to choose his wild cards from four players with Ryder Cup experience, Keegan Bradley, Snedeker, Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner, provided the latter recovers from a neck injury.

Graeme McDowell needs to pick up world points at The Barclays to boost his position in the European pecking order as he and wife Kristin look forward to the birth of their daughter next week.

Those closest to McDowell in the world points list, Luke Donald, Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter, not forgetting a distant Lee Westwood, are determined to boost their Ryder Cup credentials this week.

Scot Gallagher also hopes to give himself a boost at the Czech Masters.

Yet all eyes will be on McIlroy at Ridgewood and an event which could show he has the same voracious hunger which once gave Tiger his edge.

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