NORTON, Mass. – And now the most manic of Mondays.
In no particular order, Rory McIlroy is doing what Rory McIlroy does, Jason Day will be vying for his second PGA Tour victory of the season on what should still be a rehab assignment and a dozen other players will spend Labor Day either trying to impress a Ryder Cup captain or interpreting the FedEx Cup math.
Against that backdrop the University of Georgia’s Russell Henley will quietly set out in an SEC showdown paired in the final group with Florida’s Billy Horschel looking to complete the day’s hectic trifecta.
Henley posted a third-round 65 to move atop a congested leaderboard with an eye toward his second victory of 2014 and a possible nod from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson when he makes his picks Tuesday evening.
But it will be McIlroy, who went one better than Henley with a 64 on Sunday, who will draw the most attention.
It’s what happens when you’re poised to add a playoff high card to a single-season haul that already includes two major championships and a World Golf Championship with a power game that golf hasn’t seen since before Tiger Woods went on a Grand Slam hiatus.
“It’s so easy for him to do that because he’s so explosive,” explained Day, who began Round 3 tied for the lead but continued his back-nine slide at TPC Boston and is tied with McIlroy two shots out of the lead. “No course is safe when he is playing like he is right now.”
And no lead is safe.
Earlier this month the world No. 1 ran down Sergio Garcia to collect his first WGC crown at the Bridgestone Invitational after starting the last 18 holes four strokes back. After Sunday’s flawless display it won’t be the FedEx Cup scenarios that will occupy Henley’s thoughts on Monday.
After a slow start to the week with rounds of 70-69, McIlroy played the front nine in 3 under and added four more birdies coming in despite not making birdie at the par-5 18th hole, a tactical miscue he won’t repeat Monday.
“I had driver out today and then I was thinking, you're 7 under par for the round, you want to take the bad number out of play. At least I still had a chance of making a birdie, hitting a 5-wood on the fairway. I played it a little conservatively,” said McIlroy, who has played the finishing hole in 1 under par for the week.
For the Northern Irishman the Deutsche Bank Championship, and by extension the FedEx Cup, are the final items on his competitive “to do” list before he motors down Magnolia Lane next April looking to complete the career Grand Slam.
The season-long race eluded him in 2012 after he won three of his last five starts, including the PGA Championship and two playoff events.
This time, however, feels different. Unlike his title run in ’12, McIlroy’s aura has outpaced his actual play. Much like Woods before he was slowed by injury, when Rory makes a move the field notices.
“The biggest thing is there are no weaknesses in his game,” said Chris Kirk, who was paired with McIlroy on Sunday and matched him with a 7-under 64 to grab a share of third place. “Everyone talks about his power, but his speed on the greens is perfect and he can get to pins that we can’t.”
As he has done throughout this current run of brilliance, McIlroy is largely dismissive of his ability to play shock-and-awe golf.
“It feels normal,” McIlroy figured. “It’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s my job.”
As if that wasn’t enough to keep his attention, Henley, as well as Horschel, will have the added complexities of playing for a spot in next week’s BMW Championship – the two are 62nd and 82nd, respectively, on the FedEx Cup points list and the top 70 after Monday’s final round advance to the third playoff stop – and impressing Watson.
Although Henley, Horschel and Kirk were considered long shots to make the team that will travel to Scotland, a victory combined with the pedestrian play of many of the presumed favorites – including Brandt Snedeker who missed the cut and Hunter Mahan who is tied for 67th – could give Captain Tom, if not Henley, something else to think about.
“Ryder Cup, FedEx Cup - there’s always going to be something to talk about,” said Henley, who beat McIlroy in a playoff earlier this year at the Honda Classic. “Any week on the PGA Tour is big so I’m used to that whole deal. The harder I try the harder it is.”
But then it’s the Ryder Cup captains’ jobs that seem to become harder as they inch closer to the moment they announce their selections.
Earlier on Sunday Stephen Gallacher narrowly missed earning a spot on the European team with a third-place finish at the Italian Open and the Continent’s captain, Paul McGinley, may have a more difficult decision than his American counterpart.
“It is tougher in terms of there are quite a few guys with a lot of experience that are not on the team for Europe,” Donald said. “(McGinley) may have to leave one or two of those guys out. When it comes to the U.S. picks, (Mahan) has played a couple, (Bradley) has played one. On the European side you have me, Poulter and Westwood who, combined, have probably played about 15 (Ryder Cup matches). It’s going to be tough for someone out there.”
It certainly will be tough for anyone trying to keep track of it all during the game’s most manic Monday.