OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – It’s not officially a lost season for Rory McIlroy, otherwise he’d be knee deep in the renovation of his new south Florida home and daydreaming about 2018.
The FedExCup means too much to the 2016 champion after having finally won the season-long race last year following so many bridesmaid finishes; and he conceded that his decision to finish the playoff season was based entirely on how his body responded after a week off following the PGA Championship.
“I was unsure of what I was going to do and I came pretty close to saying, you know what, I'm going to wait and get myself healthy,” McIlroy said on Wednesday at The Northern Trust. “But I still have a lot of time after these events to do that. I feel like I'm capable of winning. I feel like I'm capable of giving myself a chance to win this thing.”
So the world’s fourth-ranked player will finish the postseason, which may be just three starts unless the Northern Irishman makes a move up the rankings the next few weeks, and he’ll finish his year on the European Tour at the Dunhill Links Championship in October.
“2018,” he smiled.
It’s been that kind of year for McIlroy, who didn’t play his first PGA Tour event until March and was slowed throughout by a nagging rib injury.
Following the PGA Championship he suggested his year might be over, his patience finally worn thin by the on-again, off-again nature of a rib injury, but the chance to defend his title and finish what has been a challenging season on a high note drew him back for one final push.
The year hasn’t been a total loss. He finished tied for fourth at The Open, well out of serious contention but enough of a glimmer of hope to keep him interested. Oh, and he was married in April. But otherwise, 2017 has been a year best forgotten thanks to the combination of his ongoing injury, a forced equipment change when Nike Golf got out of the hard-goods business and a complete lack of victories.
“This thing has just been so niggly and it's flared up and then it's calmed down and then it's flared up again,” he said. “I haven't had the time to really let it settle down. I did at the start of the year, but I started to practice a little bit too hard, too early, when I came back from getting married and going on honeymoon, and then it flared up again.”
But if ’17 has been something best forgotten, at least from a professional standpoint, the normally jagged edge such a season would instill in a player was noticeably missing from McIlroy’s voice on Wednesday.
Despite his ’17 scorecard, McIlroy said he begins the playoffs confident in his FedExCup chances, noting that he began last season’s playoff push ranked 36th on the season-long points list. He’s currently 44th on the list.
“I feel like I'm capable of winning. I feel like I'm capable of giving myself a chance to win this thing,” he said.
But beyond the competitive necessities of the next few weeks, the bounce in McIlroy’s step was largely the result of coming up with a plan. After the Dunhill Links in October, he has a battery of tests scheduled that include a full-body scan and even a food intolerance test. He’ll take two weeks off after that before intensifying his focus on next season.
“All we'll be focusing on is getting me in the best possible shape with my body and my game going into 2018. So I'm excited for that,” he said.
That’s mind, body, game and beyond.
Following his news conference on Wednesday at Glen Oaks Club, McIlroy planned to meet with Mark Broadie, the mastermind behind the Tour’s strokes gained statistics and author of “Every Shot Counts.”
“I've become a big believer that they are very important and if you look at strokes gained from when they started to collect the ShotLink data , the only guy that has ever averaged three strokes gained on the field in a year is Tiger [Woods], and he did it eight seasons,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy went on to explain that his best season was in 2012 when he led the Tour with a 2.406 average in the strokes gained-total category.
“That's my goal. My goal is to get to three. I want to be the only other player to get to three strokes gained-total average,” he said. “If I can do that, you'll win five or six times a year, at least.”
To do that, he’ll have to be healthy, which is why he’ll do what so few of the game’s top players do and take an extended break when the playoff dust settles.
His year isn’t over, not just yet, and he can still make lemonade out of what has been a lemon with a postseason run like the one that he rode all the way to last year’s $10 million payday at East Lake; but it wasn’t the thought of a walk-off that filled McIlroy’s voice with optimism.
No, that silver lining was the byproduct of what awaits in 2018.