Jim Furyk has described him as a "marked man".
Such significance placed on McIlroy's results seems ludicrous at face value. He is 23 and this is only his second appearance at a Ryder Cup. Yet McIlroy has come a long way since the quivers which preceded his debut two years ago. Two major wins and a rise to No1 in the world rankings highlight that much, as does the esteem in which he is held on both sides of the Atlantic.
This week McIlroy must handle a fresh dynamic. That is, one whereby he is the scalp every American player will seek. "I don't think I have a bull's-eye on my back," he said. "I think it's a huge compliment that people are saying they want to beat me and whatever.
"Whoever wants to take me on, they can take me on. This week I'm not the No1 player in the world; I'm one person in a 12-man team and that's it. It's a team effort. There's 12 guys all striving towards the same goal. I'm just part of that."
Still, McIlroy is willing to handle what extra responsibility his status may afford him. He is the only multiple major winner among José María Olazábal's dozen European players. "There's leaders on our team that will lead with experience," he added. "There's a lot more guys that have played more Ryder Cups than me and are more experienced in the team room and know when to speak up and have different views on things.
"This is only my second, so I'm still getting to know and still learning about the Ryder Cup. So I feel for me, yes, I'm one of the leaders on the team, but more so on the golf course than in the team room."
In that respect it is entirely feasible McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, his compatriot and seemingly inevitable playing partner, will be asked to lead Europe from the front in Friday morning's foursomes. The prospect does not faze the USPGA champion. "I want to go out and get a point for the team," McIlroy said. "Whether that's going out first or fourth or in the middle, it really doesn't make a difference to me and it doesn't make a difference who I play. I'm going to go out there and give it my best and win that point."
It was not always thus. McIlroy once and controversially demonstrated his attitude towards the Ryder Cup by labelling it an "exhibition". Being part of a winning European side at Celtic Manor was sufficient to alter that stance.
"To me the majors are still the biggest tournaments in golf and the tournaments that I want to win," McIlroy said. "But I got here and my perception did change. I'd been to Ryder Cups before to watch, and I knew how exciting they are and how special they are. But until you actually are involved, you play and you stand on that first tee on the Friday morning, everyone screaming your name, and you see how important it is to everyone else; you're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for a lot of other people. And I think that is what makes it so special and so important.
"I think you can just see that by the celebrations when someone holes a putt, the emotion that is generated just by this tournament. You don't see anyone getting this animated or this excited about any other golf tournament. I think it's going to be different this year. I'm going to go out and just give it a go, enjoy it, play the way I play. I definitely have more confidence in myself as a player than I did two years ago, I'm a lot more certain of myself and sure of my ability."
The United States are sure of it as well. That much was clear long before McIlroy arrived at Medinah.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ed McDonald