Is it a plane? No, it's Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

He's flying high — two majors, a WGC and Europe's flagship BMW PGA have come his way this year — but even if he wins the FedEx Cup and a $10m boost towards the cost of his own jet, Rory McIlroy will be there to be shot down for the Americans at Gleneagles in 17 days' time.

Nobody knows this better than European captain Paul McGinley or vice-captain Pádraig Harrington, who is aware that McIlroy will be expected to do nothing more than inspire his team with wins in Scotland.

"I get the feeling that Paul wants Rory just to play golf, to lead on the golf course would be Rory's job. Lee Westwood's job would be to lead the team room," Harrington said at the KLM Open.

"We want Rory to win matches and win well - be undefeatable. That would be a big thing for our team if he goes out there and doesn't just win but doesn't give their guys a chance. A quick result can really give the rest of the team a boost."

That's a two-edged sword, of course, as the Americans have discovered several times when Woods was their talisman.

How McIlroy will be feeling physically and mentally after the rigours of the Tour Championship is unknown. A week's rest should be enough for a physically fit 25-year old to recharge his batteries. But one wonders how he will be feeling mentally given the added responsibilty he has of leading a European team that has reluctantly accepted the favourite's tag.

Given McIlroy's form this year and a major win for Martin Kaymer, it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that without Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner, the USA will go like lambs to the slaughter. 

As Harrington pointed out: "I'm worried the US are going to be better team-wise than they have ever been. I'd be wary of them coming out with a point to prove and they are seemingly loving being the underdogs.'

Certainly McIlroy dismissed fatigue as a major factor in Atlanta this week having opted to head home to Florida for "a day and a half" rather than head straight to the Tour Championship at East Lake from the BMW Championship in Denver on Monday. 

"It's amazing what a night in your own bed can do," McIlroy said. "I was standing in the shower on Monday morning in Denver and I was thinking to myself: 'Why am I going to Atlanta today?' So I didn't.

"It was refreshing, just to spend a little bit of time at home. Dump a little bit of luggage I've been carrying with me the past four, five weeks. It was nice."

While Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are missing the Tour Championship for the first time since 1992 (when McIlroy was three years old), McIlroy dismissed talk of a changing of the guard. However he did point to time taking its toll on a 40-something Mickelson "with arthritis" and a Woods who is "nearly 40" describing them as being "on the last few holes" of their careers.

That will be news to Woods who said he was on the "front nine" when asked where he was in his career during last December's World Challenge in California.

Be that as it may, McIlroy did admit that he will have to consider cutting back on the number of events he plays from 25 or 26 to between 20 and 23 over the next few years.

"I think sometimes you feel like you need to play," McIlroy said. "Sometimes you feel like you need to play the week before a major. There's a couple of events during the year that you feel obliged just because of where you're from or to support a different Tour, whatever it is.

"In a perfect world you might not play. But it is what it is."

Since he won The Open, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA in consecutive weeks, McIlroy has finished T22, T5 and T8 in the first three events of the FedEx Cup playoff series to fall from first to fourth.

A win in Atlanta would guarantee him the FedEx Cup and then $10m bonus and he may also have a chance to win the whole lot in his 21st start of the year if neither Chris Kirk (1st in the FedEx Cup standings), Billy Horschel (2nd), Bubba Watson (3rd) or Hunter Mahan (fifth) goes on to win.

"Anything other than a win here would be a disappointment," McIlroy said. "If I finish second or third and end up winning (the FedExCup), then that's cool as well."

McIlroy admitted that $10m is a lot of money even to him and that while he's not playing for the cash, it might come in handy for a personal purchase which sounds very much like a private jet.

"Ten million dollars is a lot of money to anyone," he said. "If I'm thinking of getting myself something, whatever it is, it's a nice bit of extra money to have, for whatever than may be (smiling)."

McIlroy made it plain that he believes he'll almost certainly win the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award following his WGC win and two majors.

A win in Atlanta would make him an even bigger target for Tom Watson's gung-ho US squad in Scotland but as Harrington said, Europe expects McIlroy to lead by winning points.

"We want Rory to win matches and win well - be undefeatable," Harringtons said. "That would be a big thing for our team if he goes out there and doesn't just win but doesn't give their guys a chance. A quick result can really give the rest of the team a boost."