The FedEx Cup play-off system has never been without its critics but this year it offers an intriguing denouement. McIlroy heads to East Lake for the Tour Championship at the summit of the FedEx standings and with some illustrious challengers, Tiger Woods among them.
Should McIlroy win in Georgia, he would head to the Ryder Cup boosted by a pay cheque in excess of £7m. The Tour Championship victor will collect $1.44m with McIlroy – who has won four times on the other side of the Atlantic this season – looking to secure the FedEx title and another $10m. Not bad for a player who was criticised for supposedly letting his love life get in the way of his profession in the not-so distant past.
"To Rory, this will be just another tournament," says Michael Bannon, McIlroy's coach since the age of seven. "Of course, winning is very important to him but there will be no added pressure. Rory is a very quick learner; all the experience he has had of winning this year, and in such a short space of time recently, will be very good for him."
McIlroy's return to form has been stunning. At the Open in July, he cut a frustrated figure when highlighting a lack of consistency in his game. At the next major, the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, the 23 year old eased to an eight-shot victory. The turnaround was striking, perhaps illustrating that there was not too much wrong with McIlroy's game in the first place.
"In technical terms, we looked at a lot of pictures of Rory's swing and just got it back closer to on-plane," Bannon says. "He still swings it a little outside to inside but his delivery is much better. He is swinging the club now in automatic mode, without thinking about it. The first sign he was getting that back was at Firestone [at the WGC event].
"The key for Rory is being on the course, seeing a shot and just hitting it rather than feeling he has to be working on things when out there playing. He was a bit mentally blocked for a while. He was thinking too much, basically. He has got himself back into a really strong, automatic groove. His short game is also excellent, he is confident in his putting after some help from Dave Stockton."
Two years ago, McIlroy had little time for the FedEx Cup. He famously spoke of playing in a tournament in the US while yearning to be in Switzerland for a European Tour event. Back then, McIlroy said: "The FedEx Cup is only about money and you shouldn't be going over to play thinking about how much you can make. I needed a break after the US PGA Championship but only had one week. There is no flexibility in your schedule as the FedEx Cup forces you to appear at those events. I didn't like that."
In 2012, McIlroy's sentiment has altered. "They're big," he says of the FedEx play-offs. "You've got the best players in the world every week."
That claim was endorsed by those who were in close pursuit of the world No1 at last week's BMC Championship. Woods, Lee Westwood and PhilMickelson were within three shots of the winner. McIlroy has now claimed six tournaments in the US – Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros managed that figure over their entire careers.
McIlroy has deserved this week off, spending it in one of the few places he could come close to achieving anonymity, New York. McIlroy trained with the New York Knicks basketball team and appeared on a chat show, where he was asked about beating Woods, his boyhood idol. "It might be weird for him. I think it is great," McIlroy laughed.
There has also been some public indifference from McIlroy towards the Ryder Cup, which he described as an "exhibition" three years ago. That stance has clearly softened. McIlroy will be the most prominent European at Medinah regardless of what transpires this week.
"There is no question he is looking forward to the Ryder Cup," says Bannon, who will take up a more frequent association with McIlroy from the end of next month.
"He has the guts for it, he is a gutsy player. Look at the way he finished the US PGA. At the Deutsche Bank Open, Rory was three shots behind going into the final round and six behind at one stage in the third round yet still won. He just has that ability to finish things off, which is, of course, a crucial component of matchplay golf.
"He has the tools to beat anybody. And he won't fear anybody."
Quite the reverse, in fact. Love has plenty to ponder.
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image: © Ed McDonald