09/25/2016

Not long after Rory McIlroy closed the doors on a Tour Championship, FedExCup Playoffs win and $10 million, ESPN’s Jason Sobel recalled a conversation with the world’s best player from a year ago.

“Luckily, that amount of money doesn’t mean much to me anymore,” McIlroy said in reference to that fat paycheck.

It’s true that Rory has done well for himself financially, but the statement also hints at a killer drive. McIlroy needs to win like Tiger needed to win and that alone is his motivation.

So when Rory dialed up a 64 on Sunday to finish at 12-under then beat Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore in a four-hole playoff, golf took notice. There is no slump. There is no needed tweaks. McIlroy is here once again and just in time.

Think that paycheck matters to him? No, the glory does. He’ll take off from East Lake and head to suburban Minneapolis where more awaits. The Ryder Cup doesn’t pay.

It’s all starting to come up Europe again as the biannual competition returns. With American team hopefuls Chappell and Moore keeping pace, there was hope that maybe Davis Love III would pluck a winner from the Tour Championship. But McIlroy ruined that sentiment with a torrid close.

He carded a 34 on the front, hanging by a thread in contention. After the turn, though, he was spectacular. McIlroy birdied 10, 11 and 18. At the par-4, 16th, he holed out for an eagle two. Then he birdied the first and fourth playoff holes to finally see off Moore. Chappell bowed out after one.

The stakes could not have been higher. Dustin Johnson, who fell back to earth with a final round 73, would have won the FedExCup if Moore defeated McIlroy. He apparently promised Moore a cut of the pay, too. Of course, that transaction never came to fruition.

Johnson will be alright for now. He’ll head to Hazeltine as the best American player. McIlroy, on the other hand, is flat out the game’s best player. It couldn’t have been clearer.

The other contenders for that crown fell by the wayside. DJ has an argument, but it’s hard to imagine a McIlroy carding a three-over-par on a Sunday with these stakes. Jason Day ended the tournament before he started it. Once again, a variety of maladies caused him to withdraw. Jordan Spieth finished T17.

Only McIlroy seized the moment. That’s the takeaway from East Lake. For as much as the PGA Tour shoves the FedExCup Playoffs down our throats, golf’s postseason still lacks punch. It’s football season. It’s the October-push in baseball. Heck, the Ryder Cup is a week away. Why stick to this generic format that has yet to cross into mainstream sports? There’s no creativity.

Still, the plot thickens. Love this week said this is the best ever Ryder Cup team. He was speaking of the Americans. Not the group that has McIlroy and 11 others seeking to defend the trophy. Maybe that was some bulletin board material for Rory. Likely not. He doesn’t concern himself with what other people think.

The curly hair is gone, the cheeks that were once chubby are now taut. He looks like an athlete. When he joined David Feherty this summer for a second time, he admitted that he no longer plays golf for fun. McIlroy’s admission worked in stark contrast to the Spring Break crew led by Fowler and Spieth. In golf season? No, that’s not for him.

Rory will be disappointed in a majorless, but this win, this crowning achievement certainly helps. Now if he can add a Ryder Cup to the mix, he may steer us back to where we were before. The Post-Tiger world is really Rory’s.