CARMEL, Ind. — Rory McIlroy suddenly has new life in what had been a drab season.
All it took was a phone call to British putting coach Phil Kenyon, a little work and a little patience, and a victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship that reminded McIlroy what had been sorely missing in his game.
He doesn’t need to putt great. He just needs to avoid putting poorly.
“I was looking at the stats from my win here in 2012,” McIlroy said Wednesday at Crooked Stick for the BMW Championship. “And I think out of 70 players, I finished 49th in strokes gained putting and won by two, shot 20-under par. So you don’t have to putt great, but you can’t putt poorly, either. If you have a great ball-striking week, if you’re sort of just average in putting, you can have a great chance to win.”
McIlroy ended another season without a major, though that victory at the TPC Boston on Monday moved him to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup and gave him a clear shot at the $10 million bonus, which he has never won. McIlroy was the best player in golf in 2012 (when he won at the TPC Boston and Crooked Stick in successive weeks) and in 2014 (when he won the last two majors). Both times, someone else played better and won the FedEx Cup.
And there’s one other cup at the end that could turn a major-less year into a sweet one.
“If I can play the way I am playing through the next two events of this FedEx Cup playoffs and into the Ryder Cup, I still won’t have achieved what I wanted to achieve this season, but it’s a nice way to finish the season off,” he said. “It’s not a bad way to finish the year.”
On the other side of this is Jason Day.
He surged to No. 1 in the world by playing better than anyone the first half of the year, winning at the Arnold Palmer Invitation and the Dell Match Play, and then adding The Players Championship. But he didn’t win a major, losing by one shot to Jimmy Walker at the PGA Championship. In fact, he hasn’t won since May.
Even so, Day finds himself in a remarkably tight race with U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson for player of the year.
The PGA Tour’s award is a vote of the players. The PGA of America award is based on points. Day leads 80-76 in the points race, mainly because he has an ultra slim lead on Johnson in adjusted scoring average (0.008 difference) and a $507,527 lead on the money list.
More troublesome to Day is this minor drought he’s in.
The world’s No. 1 player has had his chances, losing a late lead in the Bridgestone Invitational and failing to catch up to Walker at the PGA Championship. He wasn’t a serious contender at either of the two FedEx Cup playoff events.
But it’s a fine line, and Day could only laugh when it was mentioned that he had gone nearly four months without a victory.
“Of my goodness. I should start another profession then, right?” he said.
The only difference he can detect is missing a few more fairways, which he figures will lead to more birdie chances, better scoring and more trophies. He made it sound so simple, and for a short burst in the spring, he made winning look simple.
“I want to get back to that,” Day said.
A victory in either of the last two events might be enough for him to win the FedEx Cup — if he wins the Tour Championship, he’s assured of that — and make this year as good as it can be without having a major.
For everyone else, it’s a matter of getting to the Tour Championship.
The top 70 in the FedEx Cup advanced to the BMW Championship, though Henrik Stenson at No. 24 took the week off to rest. The top 30 advance to the Tour Championship in two weeks at East Lake, where everyone will have a mathematical chance at winning the FedEx Cup.
Brooks Koepka is holding down the 30th spot, with Daniel Berger one spot behind.
Patrick Reed is at No. 1 in the standings from his victory in The Barclays and his tie for fifth last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Reed plays a full schedule, and it’s a good thing considering what he has gone through — the Olympics, three FedEx Cup playoff events, a week off and then the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup.