By Ben Everill
CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE Colorado (Reuters) – World No. 1 Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday that he will be “disappointed” unless he can cap his banner year by capturing FedExCup honors and the eye-popping $10 million bonus given to the playoff winner.
Despite counting the British Open and PGA Championship among his four triumphs worldwide in 2014 and reclaiming the title as the game’s best, McIlroy will tee off in Thursday’s opening round of the BMW Championship with a burning desire for more.
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman is second on the season-long FedExCup points list behind Chris Kirk, who triumphed at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday, and enters the PGA Tour’s penultimate playoff event at Cherry Hills Country Club just outside Denver determined to reclaim top spot.
After arriving at the 2012 Tour Championship finale at number one following two playoff wins, McIlroy was pipped by American Brandt Snedeker and missed out on pocketing the $10 million first prize.
And it still irks him.
“I still got compensated pretty well for second place, so it wasn’t too bad but I feel like it’s been such a great year on the golf course that if I wasn’t to go ahead and win the FedExCup, it would definitely be disappointing,” said McIlroy.
“I really want to cap off this summer as best as I can. Not winning a couple of years ago did add a little bit of fuel to the fire and probably makes me a little bit more determined to try to win it this year.”
The top 70 players on the FedExCup points list after the Deutsche Bank Championship qualified through to Cherry Hills this week with Dustin Johnson the only one not taking his place as he takes his voluntary absence from the sport.
But just the leading 30 after this week’s event will advance to the Sep. 11-14 Tour Championship finale in Atlanta.
While McIlroy and others like Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott are all safe to make it to Atlanta, the BMW Championship will be a nail biter for the likes of England’s Justin Rose (27th), Americans Keegan Bradley (28th) and Gary Woodland (29th) plus Japanese young gun Hideki Matsuyama who sits right on the bubble at 30th.
“I have played in the Tour Championship every year I’ve been on tour so I don’t want to stop that streak,” said Bradley, who is still reveling in being named a wildcard pick on Tuesday for the U.S. team in this month’s Ryder Cup.
“I need to go out this week and have a solid week and obviously, the goal is to always win. If you do that, it takes care of everything.”
But with Cherry Hills affected by the altitude in Colorado, which sees the ball fly a fair bit further than at sea level conditions, McIlroy remains an overwhelming favorite.
The course opens with drivable par fours at the first and third, where Arnold Palmer famously drove the opening green in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open, storming home from seven shots back to win by two.
Palmer was six under through seven holes that day and with today’s modern clubs there are expectations some extremely low scores could be posted, perhaps even a magical 59 on the par-70 layout.
McIlroy estimated each club was traveling a good 15 percent further and admitted to hitting a three-wood an incredible 370 yards during Wednesday’s pro-am event.
“There’s probably going to be a few guys that get off to good starts this week that will be thinking of a 59,” said McIlroy.
“Especially if you can drive the first green, you can drive the third green, you got a wedge into the second, you got a wedge into the fourth, fifth’s a tough hole, seven you can get it close to the green, there’s chances where you could maybe go five or six under par after nine and start to think about it.
“But then the back nine’s got some difficult holes and even though it’s got two par fives, it’s still going to be tough to keep your round going. … you’re going to see some 63s and 64s, but I don’t think you’re going to see much lower.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)