LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND - JULY 21: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks across a green during the third round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club on July 21, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The FedEx Cup has weathered its share of ridicule but Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are big boosters of the so-called season-ending playoff system.
If you’re a PGA Tour player, what’s not to like about the FedEx Cup series, what with its $10 million jackpot for the winner of the four-event series? Nothing, as far as Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are concerned -- although it has not always been thus for the 2011 U.S. Open champ, who in the past ditched the so-called playoffs because he could not squeeze them into his frenetic schedule.
It was just two years ago when McIlroy quit the PGA after winning his first U.S. title because he was homesick for his then-girlfriend Holly Sweeney in Northern Ireland, and because the season-ending series required too much playing time.
“If you're not playing well in the States it can be a lonely place,” McIlroy told the Belfast Telegraph back in November 2010. “But if you're not playing well on the European Tour you still have plenty of mates to hang out with. Holly also has another two years at university and we have two dogs, a nice house and I love my life back in Northern Ireland. I don't ever want to give that up.”
Well, times have changed, as has McIlroy’s situation; he split with Sweeney and, as one-half of golf’s ickily named power couple, Wozzilroy, globe trots far and wide from home with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. The world’s third-ranked golfer has also undergone an attitude adjustment regarding the FedEx Cup, a time suck that was “only about the money,” he complained to the Telegraph.
The playoff season remains a hectic stretch of the season, but one that McIlroy, who could use some positive results after missing three cuts in his last five starts, claimed he enthusiastically anticipated.
“It's a busy run, but it'll be nice to play well and get into a good bit of form and try and make a run,” McIlroy told reporters Tuesday prior to this week’s talent-laden Bridgestone Invitational. “There's a few things to play for, obviously, two big weeks coming up, and then concentrate on the FedExCup and try and do well in that, and then obviously try to go into the Ryder Cup playing as well as possible.
“Yeah, good stretch coming up,” McIlroy reiterated, “and looking forward to it.”
McIlroy was not alone in his enthusiasm for the FedEx Cup. Mickelson, another top golfer looking to regain the winning form that has disappeared in a flurry of missed cuts and a withdrawal after a strong start to the season, will use the block of tourneys that begin in mid-August as a tuneup for September’s Ryder Cup.
Mickelson even credited the FedEx Cup, which launched in 2007, with bolstering the play of his mates on the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup squads.
“If you look back at the U.S. record since the FedEx Cup has been in existence, our record in the team competitions from Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup has been extremely good, with the only loss being The Ryder Cup two years ago,” Mickelson told reporters Monday in a teleconference promoting the first FEC event, The Barclays. “This has really helped the U.S. players be sharp mentally and have our game sharp. The FedExCup has forced us to really prepare and practice for the four events following the PGA Championship, where often times in the past, we have taken a bit of a break.”
Players have come to rely on the FedEx Cup events, which tour commissioner Tim Finchem designed to keep fans engaged after the major championships ended, to get their competitive juices flowing for the international team matches, Mickelson asserted.
“The last two FedEx Cup events will give players momentum heading into The Ryder Cup,” he said.
Whether you buy into the FedEx Cup hype or not, it’s been a pretty good week for the system, which has received its share of bad press as a phony-baloney race to the riches worthy of the moniker “playoff” only as a foil for Jim Mora’s notorious “Playoffs?!” rant (guilty). For sure, no one will ever confuse Finchem’s money grab with golf’s four majors, or even major league baseball’s latest folly, the ridiculous one-game play-in to the post-season.
But each of the four events (The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship, BMW Championship, and Tour Championship) -- if not the whole the FedEx Cup concept -- has grown on many golf watchers, and at least two of the stars expressed eagerness to take part.
“There was a lot of skepticism at first when [the FedEx Cup] first came out,” said Mickelson, who won the 2009 Tour Championship finale while Tiger Woods earned the FEC trophy. “We knew that it was a good thing in that it got the best players in the world to compete against each other four additional weeks.
“We were not sure how it was going to evolve,” Mickelson added, “but now it's really become a staple of the PGA Tour and something that the players really look forward to and strive for.”