With €9m on-course earnings this year, Rory is the only show in town

All 12 of the US Ryder Cup team have qualified for next week’s Tour Championship, the final tournament on the PGA Tour’s lucrative FedEx Cup play-off series, but it’s a safe bet Europe’s Jose-Maria Olazabal was the slightly the happier of the two captains after events in Indiana and the Netherlands over the weekend.

Not only did Rory McIlroy win for the second successive week in the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick but Lee Westwood tied for second with Phil Mickelson while in Europe Peter Hanson emerged victorious in the KLM Open.

Mickelson and Tiger Woods, and to a lesser extent Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, were the Americans who demonstrated that their game is where they want it to be headed for the Tour finale starting at East Lake, Atlanta on Thursday week and leading from there to the Ryder Cup showdown at Medinah, near Chicago, a week later.

However, Davis Love III can hardly be happy about the performances of Keegan Bradley (59th of the 70-strong field), Matt Kuchar (54th), Webb Simpson (51st), Brandt Snedeker (37th), Jason Dufner (29th), and Steve Stricker (27th).

Contrast that with the manner in which McIlroy dominated a powerful field for the second time in a week and how Westwood chased him home in a tremendous contest over the closing 18 holes. That can only do wonders for European confidence and Olazabal will also be pleased to see Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald also make it through to Atlanta. True, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell bowed out, with the latter slumping to a very disappointing 78 in the final round, but both will benefit from having a couple of weeks off and will be fully refreshed and ready to go in Medinah. The Ryder Cup records of both men is exemplary and few doubt their capacity to deliver once again on this occasion.

If anything, the big worry for Olazabal is Martin Kaymer’s ongoing lack of form. He finished 21st in Hilversum after a bright opening day and badly needs to make a shape in this week’s Italian Open, where he is joined by two other members of the European team, Francesco Molinari and Nicolas Colsaerts, who finished a respectable eighth in the KLM event.

All the time, the sense of European well-being is being strengthened by McIlroy who, in the space of a month, has claimed the US PGA Championship and two of the three FedEx Cup titles.

He became the first since Woods to win in successive weeks on the PGA Tour and only Jack Nicklaus and Woods had won six times on the circuit by the age of 23, while his four victories so far in 2012 are the most by any European in the States in one calendar year.

Success in the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships alone earned him a cool $2.88m not to mention at all the massive bonus of $10m should he still be at the head of the FedEx standings after the Tour Championship. It should be noted, however, that should Mickelson, Woods, Nick Watney or Brandt Snedeker come out on top in East Lake, they will also scoop the jackpot and each of the 30 qualifiers has a mathematical chance of doing so.

McIlroy’s current earnings for the year to date on the PGA Tour amount to $7,842,192, a figure that leaves him $1,957,034 ahead of Woods, his nearest rival. In Europe, he leads the way with €2,813,962, almost a half-million clear of his closest rival Rose. That’s a combined, converted total of €8,950,929. Rory really is the only game in town.

There seems no end to what McIlroy could achieve before the end of the year with all of Europe keeping their fingers crossed that he can keep it up for one very special week in the outskirts of Chicago in a fortnight’s time.

Given his current status as the game’s undisputed number one, he will have an even more important role to play on this occasion if Europe are to retain the coveted trophy.

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

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