ATLANTA (AFP) ― World No. 1 Rory McIlroy isn’t convinced the absence of both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson from the U.S. PGA Tour Championship signals a changing of the guard in golf.
But the 25-year-old reigning PGA Championship and British Open champion noted Wednesday, the eve of the season-ending event, the passing years for Mickelson, 44, and Woods, who turns 39 in December.
“They are just getting older,” McIlroy said. Phil is 43 or whatever and Tiger is nearly 40. So they are just getting into sort of the last few holes of their careers and that’s what happens. It obviously just gets harder as you get older.
“I’ll be able to tell you in 20 years how it feels.”
It is the first time since 1992 that the Tour Championship will be played without either Woods or Mickelson in the field, but McIlroy believes they are far from finished, citing Mickelson’s runner-up place at last month’s PGA Championship and an injury-marred season for Woods.
“When he gets back to full fitness you will see him here,” McIlroy predicted.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy is among five playoff points leaders in the field of 29 who can win the $10 million playoff crown by capturing the tournament, the others being Americans Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel.
“Anything other than a win here would be a disappointment,” McIlroy said.
“After I finished the PGA, all my focus was on trying to win this.
“Obviously, if I finish second or third and end up winning the whole thing, then that’s cool as well.”
The field is one player less than usual because American Dustin Johnson, who in July took a season-ending leave of absence, qualified despite not playing for nearly two months.
McIlroy, who has played for seven of the past nine weeks, went home to Florida between last week’s event in Denver and this week’s showdown in Atlanta at East Lake.
“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.”
McIlroy still has the Ryder Cup in two weeks in Scotland and stops in Bermuda, Dubai, China and Australia before ending his 2014 campaign ― a global workout that already has him pondering a cutback from 26 events to between 20 and 23 in 2015.
“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.
“In a perfect world you might not play. But it is what it is.”