McIlroy makes amazing seem 'normal' with second straight Playoffs wintext sizeSeptember 09, 2012
Bob Verdi, PGATOUR.COM
CARMEL, Ind. -- Well, it was closer than the Indianapolis Colts' game, not that those many thousands of fans who swarmed to Crooked Stick on Sunday seemed to care. You can just hear it now. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, talking to himself: "It's the opening of our season and we have to compete against that leaderboard at the BMW Championship?"
He should consult Rory McIlroy, who has a way of eliminating suspense and taking things over before they're over. A baby-faced assassin of age 23, McIlroy separated himself from a spate of world-class golfers to win his second consecutive tournament in the FedExCup Playoffs. He could have sat out this week and still arrived at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola within the top five on the points parade. Instead, McIlroy decided to try the home state of the Fighting Irish and add to his hardware store.
"The more you put yourself in position and the more you win and the more you pick up trophies, it becomes normal," volunteered McIlroy. "It feels like this is what you're supposed to do."
He said that politely and respectfully, which is his nature, but peers might take it as a warning. Then again, they're getting used to this prodigy. Several fellow pros were pondering Sunday's potential for a theatrical shootout in the morning, on the practice range and putting green. McIlroy was being highly touted, primarily because he didn't lose the tournament on Saturday. He admittedly "scraped it around" during the third round, but turned a 74 into a 69. McIlroy then worked on a mechanical flaw that evening -- he was spinning out -- and put up a 67 for a finale.
Did we say it was close? McIlroy beat playing partner Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson by two strokes, Tiger Woods and Robert Garrigus by three. So, this was not as snug as his one-shot victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship, or as decisive as his clinic at the PGA Championship, where he lapped the field by eight. Still, whenever you looked up Sunday, it seemed as though McIlroy was putting for birdie. Unless he was putting for eagle.
"He's a talent," praised Westwood. "I played with him when he was 13 and you could see it then. He's just maturing all the time. If he needs a partner (at the upcoming Ryder Cup), I don't mind."
You might think that having a fellow European as a Sunday sidekick comforted McIlroy, but think again. He could play with me and enjoy the walk. McIlroy began this glorious week of golf beside Woods, shot 64 to Tiger's 65, and that set the bar high on a course so soaked that lift, clean and place prevailed for 72 holes -- a once-a-year rarity, if that, according to Slugger White, vice-president of rules and competitions for the PGA TOUR. Pete Dye, the designer with a house on the grounds, predicted 20 under would win, and he nailed it.
Who would furnish such a gaudy number, that was the question. Mickelson chipped in for birdie on No. 2 to seize a brief lead but missed the green with a wedge from the middle of the fairway for bogey on No. 7, where Vijay Singh also took one too many. His putting magic disappeared Sunday, and so did his room reservation in Atlanta. When McIlroy launched a splendid 4-iron from 226 yards toward birdie on No. 15, fans pondering a quick getaway could start their engines, as they say around here.
Playoffs Tracker Who's moving on? Who's going home? See where everyone stands in the FedExCup race. Tracker Standings Here are the top five players following the BMW Championship: 1 Rory McIlroy 2 Tiger Woods 3 Nick Watney 4 Phil Mickelson 5 Brandt Snedeker
But galleries did not thin out. On the contrary, they appeared to multiply as some twosomes finished and others approached the homestretch. How a tournament can accommodate such massive crowds without genuine crowd control issues is a badge for Crooked Stick and Indiana golf aficionados to wear with pride. When Woods and McIlroy and Mickelson climbed the bridge toward the scoring trailer behind No. 18, there were hundreds of fans, mostly children, draped along barriers.
"Fantastic," said Woods. "The people here are just so nice. It's a treat. It really is a treat to come here and have fans policing themselves. Some guy has a camera and it goes off, and they're getting on him for that. That's nice, because it's not always like that when we play."
Westwood also was duly impressed by the total package.
"I watched these tournaments on television back home last year," he said, "and saw that I was missing out on big tournaments. I thought to myself, 'I'd like a crack at those.' The PGA TOUR does a great job putting on these events. Obviously, this was not just another golf tournament. You look at the leaderboard, you look at the golf course."
Mickelson, who did not greet the advent of a Playoff system with irrational exuberance five years ago, has joined a groundswell of converts. It certainly helped his mood to claw his way back into the hunt after a couple months of meandering. He said the down period actually sharpened his focus and clarified his to-do list. McIlroy heard all about his mid-summer blues from the press back home, but after his romp at Kiawah Island, he's 40-under par. He can probably feel free to read the newspapers again.
Meanwhile, in the United States, McIlroy is a rock star.
"I feel like I've got tremendous support on the PGA TOUR," he said. "Everywhere I go, the fans couldn't be more supportive and welcoming. I feel this is where I belong. I've always wanted to play on the PGA TOUR and it's working out pretty good so far."
McIlroy planned to depart Crooked Stick for New York. He won't win the U.S. Open men's tennis final, but he will attend. Then he will both relax and participate in some conditioning drills with the New York Knicks, who also employ his physical fitness guru, Dr. Steve McGregor.
"Oh, I'm not going to shoot any baskets or play any basketball," said McIlroy. "We'll just be doing a bit of track work."
This kid is magic, his enthusiasm is contagious. The Knicks haven't won a championship since 1973, but watch out for them this year. And I'll bet he can dunk.
Bob Verdi is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.