PARAMUS, NEW JERSEY – The last player to win back-to-back majors in the same season didn’t even make it to the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake.
“That’s not going to happen,” said Rory McIlroy, with a smile.
He’s correct, based on simple math.
Padraig Harrington won the British Open and PGA Championship in 2008, and just his bad luck, the FedEx Cup was restructured that year in an attempt to create more volatility in the playoff events. It rewarded mediocrity instead. Harrington began the playoffs by missing two straight cuts and soon was eliminated.
The system in place the last five years doesn’t allow for that happen again.
McIlroy is the No. 1 seed when the playoffs get started Thursday at The Barclays, and he is assured of reaching the Tour Championship. But his hopes of cashing in on the $10 million prize are based more on form than a calculator.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland is coming off three straight victories, and they were big ones — the British Open, a World Golf Championship and the PGA Championship. He is No. 1 in the world and starting to separate himself.
And he’s not interested in getting off this amazing run.
“I could just say, ‘Look, I’ve had a great year, it’s been an awesome summer. I’m going to just see what happens for the next few weeks and not really work hard,’ ” McIlroy said Wednesday. “But I want to finish the season well. I want to be up there in contention week in and week out. I feel like the season I had deserves a finish like that. So I’m going to just grind it out every week that I can until I get a bit of a break after the Ryder Cup.”
Now that the majors are done for the year, the FedEx Cup presents the best four-week stretch in golf — four tournaments with the best players from the world’s strongest tour competing for a shot at the richest bonus in golf.
The Barclays has one of the strongest fields of the year, even though a few players are noticeable by their absence.
Dustin Johnson is No. 6, though he is taking a “voluntary leave” to seek professional help for “personal challenges.” Jason Dufner is No. 57, though he is out indefinitely with a neck injury. Steve Stricker is at No. 103 and withdrew because of a hip injury.
Stricker was a long shot to make the Tour Championship, though this ends his streak of playing in every Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup began in 2007.
As good as McIlroy has been, the playoffs offer no guarantees.
The $10 million bonus is based largely on who performs well in the Tour Championship, no matter what they’ve done all year or even in the three weeks leading up to it. McIlroy learned that the hard way in 2012, when he was coming off a PGA Championship victory and won back-to-back playoff events. He tied for 10th in the Tour Championship, which Brandt Snedeker won to capture the cup.
He doesn’t seem to mind.
“I still got $3 million for second,” McIlroy said. “It is volatile, but it creates excitement at the end of the season when previously there wasn’t much excitement. So I don’t mind how it’s loaded. Just means you have to play well right until the end.”