ATLANTA – Call it collective ignorance or exhausted indifference or an inadequate marketing campaign or some combination of each, but there remains a common misconception about the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The format was never supposed to crown a season-long champion. It was never supposed to undeniably prove which player enjoyed the best year.
But it sure would be one big, happy coincidence if it that exact scenario was the end result.
On Sunday evening, the PGA Tour will send Player of the Year ballots to its membership, but really, only one name needs to be included. Rory McIlroy has won three titles – two major championships and a WGC. He leads the money list, is ranked No. 1 in the world and has inarguably been the best player.
None of that guarantees he will also win the FedEx Cup, of course, but it would be a lot more fitting if he did.
We could even call it poetic justice should McIlroy cap off his brilliant season by hoisting two trophies on Sunday afternoon.
“In my mind it would be, yes,” he concurred with a laugh.
A third-round 3-under 67 has McIlroy in position to do exactly that at East Lake Golf Club, as he shares the Tour Championship lead with Billy Horschel entering the season’s final day.
The reality is, a victory would alleviate this year of any ifs, ands or buts.
McIlroy would have enjoyed a dominant season … IF he won the FedEx Cup. He won three times … AND almost a fourth. He would have added another line to his resume … BUT he couldn’t claim the season finale.
A win would also keep us from relying on projections. No touchscreens. No whiteboards. No (gulp) math.
As one of the top five on the points list entering this week, McIlroy will claim the playoff series title with a tournament win – but he’s the only one for whom it would feel entirely appropriate.
“I feel like I've had my best year to date,” he proclaimed. “I feel like I've had the best year out of anyone on Tour and I've come here with the ultimate goal of trying to cap it off and trying to put an exclamation point on it or the icing on the cake or whatever you want to call it.”
What you would call it is another impressive line on his ever-growing resume – one of very few which has yet to be added.
Sure, there’s the small matter of a green jacket which is still nagging McIlroy. But that’s the only major title he hasn’t yet captured. He’s won a WGC and the European Tour’s season-long race and played on a pair of winning Ryder Cup teams.
The FedEx Cup might not be a gaping hole on that resume, but it’s one of very few that still exists.
“I just want to win,” he explained. “I just want to get myself back in the winner's circle again, even though it hasn't been that long. It's been three events, but I've got a very good opportunity to do it tomorrow.”
Here’s when you know things are going well for a player: McIlroy sounded genuinely upset that he’s played three straight events without winning. He also wasn’t exactly enamored with his own performance on Saturday – “it really wasn't much to look at out there,” he muttered – but still managed to post an eagle and three birdies against just two bogeys.
He also believes the FedEx Cup might owe him a little something.
Two years ago, McIlroy won two of the first three playoff events, but got passed on the points list by Brandt Snedeker, who won the Tour Championship.
“I'd feel really good about it just because of what happened in 2012, feeling as if I was a little bit hard done by,” he said. “Yeah, it would definitely make up for a couple of years ago.”
Anyone who’s studied the FedEx Cup understands that it’s about rewarding the best player during these four events, not the best player for the entire season.
That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be completely appropriate for this year’s champion to fill each of those roles.
“Would it be poetic justice?” McIlroy asked. “I mean, it would be.”