McIlroy wants strong finish to great year

PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) The last player to win back-to-back majors in the same season didn't even make it to the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake.

''That's not going to happen,'' said Rory McIlroy, with a smile.

He's correct, based on simple math.

Padraig Harrington won the British Open and PGA Championship in 2008, and just his bad luck, the FedEx Cup was restructured that year in an attempt to create more volatility in the playoff events. It rewarded mediocrity instead. Harrington began the playoffs by missing two straight cuts and soon was eliminated.

The system in place the last five years doesn't allow for that.

McIlroy is the No. 1 seed when the playoffs get started Thursday at The Barclays, and he is assured of reaching the Tour Championship. But his hopes of cashing in on the $10 million prize are based more on form than a calculator.

The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland is coming off three straight victories, and they were big ones - the British Open, a World Golf Championship and the PGA Championship. He is No. 1 in the world and starting to separate himself from the rest of golf.

And he's not interested in getting off this amazing run.

''I could just say, `Look, I've had a great year, it's been an awesome summer. I'm going to just see what happens for the next few weeks and not really work hard,''' McIlroy said Wednesday. ''But I want to finish the season well. I want to be up there in contention week in and week out. I feel like the season I had deserves a finish like that. So I'm going to just grind it out every week that I can until I get a bit of a break after the Ryder Cup.''

Now that the majors are done for the year, the FedEx Cup presents the best four-week stretch in golf - four tournaments with the best players from the world's strongest tour competing for a shot at the richest bonus in golf.

The Barclays has one of the strongest fields of the year, even though a few players are noticeable by their absence.

Tiger Woods was in town this week, but only for corporate work with McIlroy. Woods missed three months of the season recovering from back surgery and hurt his back again in only his third tournament back. He didn't come close to finishing among the top 125 who qualified for the playoffs.

Dustin Johnson is No. 6, though he is taking a ''voluntary leave'' to seek professional help for ''personal challenges.'' Jason Dufner is No. 57, though he is out indefinitely with a neck injury. Steve Stricker is at No. 103 and withdrew because of a hip injury that will turn his part-time schedule into no schedule at all for the next few months.

Stricker was a long shot to make the Tour Championship, though this ends his streak of playing in every Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. Phil Mickelson (No. 45) and Hunter Mahan (No. 62) are the others who have made it to East Lake each of the last seven years.

As good as McIlroy has been, the playoffs offer no guarantees.

The $10 million bonus is based largely on who performs well in the Tour Championship, no matter what they've done all year or even in the three weeks leading up to it. McIlroy learned that the hard way in 2012, when he was coming off a PGA Championship victory and won back-to-back playoff events. He tied for 10th in the Tour Championship, which Brandt Snedeker won to capture the cup.

He doesn't seem to mind.

''I still got $3 million for second,'' McIlroy said. ''It is volatile, but it creates excitement at the end of the season when previously there wasn't much excitement. So I don't mind how it's loaded. Just means you have to play well right until the end.''

He has been playing nothing short of great for the last month.

''What Rory has done is phenomenal and worthy of all the attention he gets,'' Adam Scott said. ''And I think he's the rightful No. 1 golfer in the world at the moment.''

Scott is the defending champion at The Barclays, winning a year ago at Liberty National.

The Barclays returns to Ridgewood Country Club, a classic course that figures to be a stronger test than what players faced at Valhalla two weeks ago in the final major of the year. The rough is so thick in spots that Jimmy Walker said he nearly couldn't find his golf ball during the pro-am Wednesday just a few paces off the fairway.

McIlroy will play the opening two rounds with Walker and Masters champion Bubba Watson, the top three players in the FedEx Cup. The long shot is Robert Allenby, who got the 125th spot by a single point and will need a solid week just to keep playing. The top 100 in the FedEx Cup after The Barclays advance to the second round of the playoffs next week at the TPC Boston.

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The Barclays field
Robert AllenbyStuart ApplebyAaron Baddeley
Sang-Moon BaeRicky BarnesJonas Blixt
Jason BohnSteven BowditchKeegan Bradley
Scott BrownAngel CabreraPaul Casey
Kevin ChappellK.J. ChoiStewart Cink
Tim ClarkErik ComptonBen Crane
Brian DavisJason DayGraham DeLaet
Luke DonaldErnie ElsHarris English
Matt EveryGonzalo Fernandez-CastanoMartin Flores
Rickie FowlerJim FurykSergio Garcia
Brice GarnettRobert GarrigusRetief Goosen
Luke GuthrieBill HaasChesson Hadley
James HahnBrian HarmanDavid Hearn
Russell HenleyJustin HicksCharley Hoffman
Morgan HoffmannJ.B. HolmesBilly Horschel
Charles Howell IIIJohn HuhBilly Hurley III
Ryo IshikawaFredrik JacobsonZach Johnson
Matt JonesMartin KaymerJerry Kelly
Chris KirkKevin KisnerRussell Knox
Jason KokrakMatt KucharScott Langley
Danny LeeMarc LeishmanJustin Leonard
Will MacKenzieHunter MahanBen Martin
Hideki MatsuyamaGraeme McDowellWilliam McGirt
Rory McIlroyGeorge McNeillTroy Merritt
Phil MickelsonBryce MolderRyan Moore
Kevin NaSeung-yul NohGeoff Ogilvy
Louis OosthuizenJeff OvertonRyan Palmer
Pat PerezCarl PetterssonIan Poulter
Michael PutnamPatrick ReedAndres Romero
Justin RoseRory SabbatiniCharl Schwartzel
Adam ScottJohn SendenWebb Simpson
Vijay SinghBrandt SnedekerJordan Spieth
Kevin StadlerScott StallingsBrendan Steele
Shawn StefaniHenrik StensonRobert Streb
Kevin StreelmanChris StroudBrian Stuard
Daniel SummerhaysAndrew SvobodaMichael Thompson
Brendon ToddDavid TomsCameron Tringale
Bo Van PeltJhonattan VegasCamilo Villegas
Jimmy WalkerNick WatneyBubba Watson
Boo WeekleyLee WestwoodTim Wilkinson
Gary WoodlandBrendon de Jonge 
Strength of field
World RankPlayersNo. in Field
TOP 10Rory McIlroy (1),Adam Scott (2),Sergio Garcia (3),Jim Furyk (4),Henrik Stenson (5),Justin Rose (6),Bubba Watson (7),Jason Day (8),Matt Kuchar (9),Rickie Fowler (10)10
TOP 25Phil Mickelson (11),Martin Kaymer (12),Jordan Spieth (13),Billy Horschel (14),Zach Johnson (15),Graeme McDowell (18),Jimmy Walker (19),Hideki Matsuyama (20),Hunter Mahan (21),Chris Kirk (22),Charl Schwartzel (24)11
TOP 50Keegan Bradley (26),Patrick Reed (27),Bill Haas (29),Luke Donald (32),Webb Simpson (33),Kevin Na (35),Ian Poulter (38),Brandt Snedeker (39),Graham DeLaet (40),Ryan Palmer (41),Ryan Moore (43),Lee Westwood (44),Marc Leishman (45),Brendon Todd (46),Gary Woodland (47),Kevin Streelman (48),John Senden (50)17
TOP 100Ernie Els (51),Russell Henley (53),Kevin Stadler (54),Angel Cabrera (56),Jonas Blixt (57),Matt Every (58),Harris English (59),Matt Jones (60),J.B. Holmes (61),Louis Oosthuizen (62),Paul Casey (63),Brian Harman (68),Cameron Tringale (70),Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (71),Charley Hoffman (72),Fredrik Jacobson (74),Geoff Ogilvy (75),Erik Compton (77),Tim Clark (78),George McNeill (79),Chris Stroud (80),K.J. Choi (81),Ryo Ishikawa (83),Nick Watney (85),Ben Martin (86),Kevin Chappell (87),Chesson Hadley (88),Seung-yul Noh (93),Brendon de Jonge (96),Charles Howell III (97),Morgan Hoffmann (98),Daniel Summerhays (99)32
Course: Ridgewood CC, Par 71 | Yardage: 7227