Sep
9
2012
The Ultimate Driving Machine solidifies status as the man to beat
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup

Rory: The Ultimate Driving Machine

The best part of the FedExCup playoffs is it keeps the world’s top players competing through September in some of golf’s deepest fields (and the worst part is calling the format “PLAYOFFS”). With a packed leaderboard on Sunday featuring names like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and the eventual champ Rory McIlroy, even the biggest diehard NFL fans might have turned the channel — if only temporarily — to tune into the action in the final round of the BMW Championship.

Tiger gave it a run, but it wasn’t good enough. Phil made some late birdies but accompanied it with some late mistakes. Lee put on a ballstriking clinic alongside McIlroy but couldn’t buy a putt.

Golf is a funny game, where things can switch on you overnight, but heading into the week and the final round, it felt like this one was Rory’s to lose. Maybe it had something to do with his strong form — he’d just won the Deutsche Bank Championship, and a few weeks prior, he captured his second major at the PGA Championship. Maybe it had something to do with the long and soft conditions that favor the 23-year-old. Maybe it’s just because he’s now the man to beat.

Good friend and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell coined a new nickname for McIlroy after he won the 2011 U.S. Open by a record eight shots to reflect his “superb consistency off the tee,” not to mention power: “BMW – The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

With the massive floating sign that spelled out “THE ULTIMATE DRIVING MACHINE” in the pond guarding the 18th green at Crooked Stick, it was only fitting that Rory cruised to his second consecutive victory, becoming the first player to win back-to-back events since Tiger Woods in 2009, and third in his last four starts.

In the closing stretch, McIlroy put the hammer down and separated himself from the other contenders, namely Westwood. On the par-5 No. 15 McIlroy hit a sweet 4-iron on his second shot to about 14 feet for eagle. (Confession: It was so pure it gave me chills.) He missed the putt, but tapped-in for an easy birdie.

Attack, attack, attack. (Which I know given how soft the course was playing, it’s easier to do.)

McIlroy didn’t stray from his usual game plan and aggressive playing style. He knocked another dart on the par-4 No. 16, but this time he made the 10-footer for birdie to get to 21-under. Game. Set. Match.

“I felt like I was probably a little more on my game last week (in Boston), said McIlroy after securing his sixth-career PGA Tour victory. “I scrambled really well yesterday to still give myself a chance going into today.  I did some great work last night and drove the ball beautifully today,  and set myself up to attack these pins…”

He bogeyed the 18th, but the tournament was already pretty much over at that point.

“Just another great week.  You know, I came here with the mindset from Boston that I just wanted to keep going on this roll.  Some suggested that I could have taken a week off and still could have been in the top 5 in the FedExCup standings going into Atlanta, but I felt like I was playing really well and didn’t want to stop that run.

“I sort of picked up where I left off in Boston, shot 64 the first day here, and just playing with a lot of confidence right now.  I’m confident in my ability and confident with the shots that I’m hitting and confident on the greens. I’m making the right decisions out there, and everything is really just going to plan at the minute.  It’s a nice run to be on, and I want to try and keep it going for as long as possible.”

The most important key to the victory? Hanging tough in the third round when he had his B/C game.

“I thought yesterday I didn’t have my best golf, but I still managed to shoot 69, not to shoot myself out of the tournament, said McIlroy in his post-victory press conference. “I went and did some great work on the range last night after I played, figured a couple things out.  My driving yesterday was horrendous, and today I think I only missed one fairway.

“It was a big turnaround, and I’m glad I went and did that session on the range last night.”

McIlroy left Crooked Stick en route for NYC to train with the New York Knicks in his off-week (now that should be interesting…). But perhaps more significant is quieting the doubters and truly establishing himself as the man to beat. I’m not going to jump on the “Rory is so dominant” wagon yet, but if he wins the Tour Championship, then that’s going to be pretty good.

I’m also not going to bore you with any Tiger comparisons. What Tiger did will not be replicated for a long, long time — if ever. Besides, Tiger was so 2000s.

“He’s going out there and is up near the lead and posts a good number,” said Woods after shooting a final-round 68 to place T4, when asked if Rory reminded him of himself. “He’s doing the things he needs to do, and as he said yesterday, he’s feeling very confident about his game.  Right now he’s just really playing well, and he’s making a ton of putts.  That’s a great combo.”

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)