With Rory McIlroy fixed atop the world rankings and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failing to qualify for the Tour Championship, it might be symbolic of a changing of the guard in professional golf.
In his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday morning, McIlroy wouldn’t say that exactly, but he did acknowledge that the two veterans, who have served as the faces of the game for nearly the last two decades, are getting older and more injury prone.
“Phil has played well in parts this year,” said Rory, the reigning Open Championship and PGA Championship winner. “He came really close to winning the PGA. I feel like he’s gotten a little better as the year went on. But it’s a lot of golf for him to play in such a short space of time. So you could see he was getting tired the last couple of weeks.
“And, I mean, Tiger’s not here just because he’s been injured or he is injured. He hasn’t had the opportunity to play. But I think if he gets back and when he gets back to full fitness, you’ll see him back here again.
“They’re just getting older. Phil’s 43 or whatever he is and Tiger’s nearly 40. So they’re getting into the sort of last few holes of their career. And that’s what happens. You get injured. Phil has to deal with an arthritic condition, as well. Obviously it just gets harder as you get older. I’ll be able to tell you in 20 years how it feels.”
Indeed, Rory speaks the truth. It’s not a slight to Tiger and Phil — it’s just simple facts.
Mickelson is missing the Tour Championship for the first time since its inception in 2007. He also has never finished worse than 15th in the FedExCup standings during that period.
Meanwhile, Rory, who is only 25, qualified for the season finale for only the second time. While he missed out last year due to a minor slump, he placed second in the points standings in 2012.
This time he’s ranked fourth heading into the Tour Championship, and since he’s in the top five — excuse the PGA Tour-speak — he “controls his own destiny,” which means if he wins at East Lake, then he automatically also wins the FedExCup and $10 million wheelbarrow of cash.
“It’s good, being in the top 5, you know what you need to do,” he said. “You need to win, and that takes care of everything and it takes anything out of anyone else’s hands. So, being in the top 5 was important. Coming in here I would have liked to have been a little higher on the list. But I just haven’t played quite well enough over the past few weeks to do that. Even though I’m still in the top 5, and a win this week takes care of everything else.”
And a result, less than just that would be a massive letdown for McIlroy.
“Anything other than a win here would be a disappointment,” he said. “After I finished the PGA, all my focus was on the FedEx Cup and trying to win this.”
The PGA Tour FedExCup experts broke down each player’s chances of winning the massive “Playoff” bonus, and Rory has a “reasonable chance” if he finishes second. He can also place as low as T3 and still have a mathematical chance of taking home the grand prize.
“So anything other than a win this week, if that means that if I finish second or third and end up winning the whole thing, then that’s cool, as well. I mean, I want to win. I only have to beat 28 other guys. It’s not like a regular field where you have to beat 155.”