By Dan Reardon
He’s back. At least for one week, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy has quieted his doubters and silenced his critics with a tour-de-force performance on the second leg of the FedExCup playoffs, the Deutsche Bank Championship.
It’s a little presumptive to look at a player who has won twice in the last nine months and was ranked in the top 5 in the world. But when you set the bar as high as McIlroy has in his young PGA Tour career, questions get raised. McIlroy, who won four majors by age 25, had not only failed to add to that total since his PGA win at Kiawah in 2014, he missed the weekend in two of his last three major starts.
Sometimes it can be some friendly surroundings, and sometimes it can be some fine-tuning adjustments. For McIlroy, it was a little of both. He set off alarms, even in his own mind, when he teed off Friday in Boston, on a course where he won in 2012. After three holes, he was four-over par with a triple bogey. He stabilized the round with a birdie at the par 3 13th and hung in with an even par 71. “I think those last 15 holes on Friday were definitely a turning point not just in the tournament but I think maybe in my season.”
He added rounds of 67-66-65 to finish -15 for the championship, two clear of third-round leader, Paul Casey. A small adjustment on the greens after round three allowed him to make up six strokes on Casey and the field on Monday.
McIlroy made it career win number 12 on the PGA Tour (20 professional wins worldwide) and vaulted back to number three in the World Golf Rankings. Sitting fourth in points, he’s also back in the hunt for the FedExCup’s $10 million payoff.
Casey, who has only one U.S. win in his career, could take some solace in a game that is on the rise. A nearly 50-position leap in the FedExCup standings puts him safely into Atlanta at 10th.
PGA Champion Jimmy Walker moved into the FedExCup top 10 with a solo third in Boston. Last year’s FedExCup winner, Jordan Spieth, slipped out of the top 5, 600 points behind Adam Scott who matched McIlroy’s final-day 65.
On the bubble, Marc Leishman inched up one spot to pick up the last ticket to Indianapolis in the 70th position. Ricky Barnes was on the other end of the equation. With three bogeys on the back nine, Barnes dropped three spots to miss Crooked Stick by nine points.
Next on the Tee: The BMW Championship
Crooked Stick Golf Club may not be the most famous of the myriad courses around the country designed by Pete Dye. But for the architect, it has always been his home course. Opened in 1964 in his native Indiana, the course has hosted a handful of professional visits including the 2012 FedEx BMW Championship.
The course, however, will always hold its place in golf history because of an alternate who made it into the field the week of the 1992 PGA Championship. A kid with no pedigree, John Daly was an unknown on Thursday and a legend on Sunday. It was not only the win but the Elvis-like character of Daly that built the story. Over four days he took no prisoners off the tee, with Nick Price’s caddy, Squeaky Medlen, telling Daly “kill” a few seconds before each drive.
More recently, a much higher profile bomber navigated the 7500-yard rolling terrain for a win in 2012. Rory McIlroy is the charismatic opposite of Daly, but they share the same ability to erase length from the challenges a course can offer. In McIlroy’s case, Crooked Stick serves up an opportunity to match the double of four years ago, when he went back-to-back at Deutsche Bank and BMW.
A squadron of bombers are lined up at the top of the FedExCup standings for BMW. Jason Day and Dustin Johnson sit directly ahead of McIlroy, and less than 300 points separate the trio. Johnson enjoyed a measure of success in 2012 with a top 10 in Indiana, and Patrick Reed is less than 800 points clear of DJ.
Two players to consider if length is the separation skill and motivation is the driving force, are the game’s two premier left-handers. Phil Mickelson was second to McIlroy in ’12 by a couple of shots and is only 300 points shy of Casey for a top-10 ranking going to Atlanta. Bubba Watson also solved Crooked Stick four years ago, closing with a 65 on Sunday. Watson, at 27th, has the additional incentives of staying in the top 30 and making his last case for a Captain’s pick to the Ryder Cup team. Both Mickelson and Watson missed the cut in Boston.
Crooked Stick Golf Club is scheduled to play at 7516 yards par 72.
Favorites: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day
Players to Watch: Jimmy Walker, Ryan Moore, Russell Knox
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.