ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy came to East Lake Golf Club on top of the FedEx Cup playoff standings, and his plan is to stay there, even if it means protecting his position on Sunday afternoon and losing an opportunity to win the Tour Championship.
McIlroy has won two playoff events in 2012, the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships, earning $2,936,700 in the playoffs. However, the big payday comes in Atlanta on Sunday, with $10 million waiting for the FedEx Cup winner.
“It is so tight, and that’s the way the PGA Tour want it and that’s the way the fans want to see it,” McIlroy said about his slim 85-point lead over Jim Furyk going into Saturday’s third round. “It makes it exciting. I’m just happy that I’m part of that top few that has a chance.”
Having never played East Lake, McIlroy would have seemed to be at a disadvantage. After a first-round 69 during which McIlroy struggled with his iron play, hitting only 11 of 18 greens, his second round was a polar opposite. A 2-under 68 showcased the Ulsterman as being more comfortable with the layout, hitting 14 of 18 greens, but it also put him back in the mix to win the Tour Championship, sitting T-7, four shots back of Furyk.
“He gave me two of those, the bunker shot on the first and then the one on the fourth,” McIlroy said of playing competitor Phil Mickelson’s awesome shot comments during the round. “I said, they must be pretty good if he’s telling me they’re good. Yeah, because I didn’t get off to the best start, so to get those two up‑and‑downs were nice.”
A 5-to-1 favorite in Las Vegas to win the Tour Championship after the second round, McIlroy will play with long-hitting Robert Garrigus in Saturday’s third round, but it is only a prelude to Sunday for the 23-year-old World No. 1.
In Sunday’s final round McIlroy will have a chance to become the youngest winner of the FedEx Cup. Bill Haas, who won last year’s title at age 29, is the only twentysomething winner.
The $10 million FedEx prize is not lost on McIlroy, who concedes that winning the Tour Championship is secondary to the big bonus.
Would he protect his position atop the FedEx Cup standings versus taking some risks down the stretch to win the Tour Championship?
“Yeah, I would,” McIlroy said.
“For 8.6 million reasons,” he said.
Not a bad answer.