LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Rory McIlroy played 18 holes Friday in a tidy 4 hours, 10 minutes, a virtual sprint these days on the PGA Tour. As with this golf season, McIlroy could not be faulted if he just wanted to get it done.
That is not exactly the case, but close. An injury-filled year that has not seen him win anywhere in the world will all but end Sunday on the PGA Tour, to be followed by a European Tour event next month in Scotland and then a lengthy layoff that he’s been pointing to for some time.
The fact that he is here at the BMW Championship is due more to sponsor commitments that he hinted at than the desire to defend his FedEx Cup title, a notion that he sold as a viable reason for competing but one that has proved futile so far.
“I’m here, so I might as well give it my best,” said McIlroy after a second-round 2-under-par 69 at Conway Farms left him in the lower third of the leaderboard, 15 shots behind leader Marc Leishman. “It’s a very long shot that I’m going to make it to next week. I’ll try my best over these next couple of days and see what I can do. Realistically, there’s not much chance of getting into [the Tour Championship].
“But I still want to go out and play well. I don’t want to go out there and completely throw it in.”
McIlroy admitted it is about pride at this point, although that won’t be of much value when he’s about to shut it down for several months.
The four-time major champion entered the week 51st in FedEx Cup points; he needed a top-4 finish to be one of the 30 golfers to advance to the Tour Championship, where a year ago he won the tournament and captured the $10 million FedEx bonus when he defeated Ryan Moore in a sudden-death playoff.
But a first-round 72 left him 10 strokes back of the lead, and there is little chance of making up that kind of ground on a course suited for birdies.
McIlroy had suggested after the PGA Championship last month that he might just close shop for the year. A fractured rib that first surfaced in January and plagued him throughout the year was still bothering him to the point that he wanted to let the injury properly heal and then prepare for 2018.
But those pesky sponsor obligations, plus the knowledge that there is plenty of time to get ready for next year — and the possibility of salvaging his year if he could go on a run – caused him to decide to give the playoffs a run.
He tied for 34th at the Northern Trust and then missed the cut at the Dell Technologies Championship, leaving a huge challenge to get to East Lake next week in Atlanta.
McIlroy didn’t pick up a club again until Wednesday, which suggests he was more about rest and rehabilitation than he was about working on his game.
“It’s my 10th year out here,” said McIlroy, 28. “I’ve been through the ups, I’ve been through the downs. I know it all sort of evens out in the end. In 2013 (when he had a poor season), I bounced back with a great year in ’14 (he won back-to-back major championships). I completely expect myself to play well next year.”
McIlroy said his troubles this year are nowhere near as bad as what he endured in 2013, when he began the season with considerable hype, and the world No. 1 ranking, after signing a lucrative contract with Nike.
He struggled early that season, didn’t contend in any of the majors, and then finally won in Australia at the end of the year, finishing sixth in the world — where he is ranked now.
“It was worse in terms of where my game was at,” he said. “Some parts I was completely lost. This year it wasn’t like that. It was more of a physical thing holding me back, not getting as much time on the practice range or the golf course that I needed to feel like I can compete. This is not as bad of a year as ’13 was as far as swing-wise and results where my game is at. But it’s still been a tough year.”
And that is why McIlroy might be excused if he wants to get it done and start looking ahead.
After the Dunhill Links Championship, which concludes Oct. 8, McIlroy said he will not pick up a club again until the week of Thanksgiving. He’ll use the six weeks to rehab and exercise before he starts building his golf game again.
And then he won’t play again until January on the European Tour in the Middle East.
“If I have a really good offseason and prepare and practice on the right things and come out mentally fresh and physically fresh, I feel like it’ll be a really good year for me,” he said. “That is sort of where my mind is at.”