American Express Stock – With Two More Wins, McIlroy Becomes Lifetime Exempt
As Rory McIlroy continues his marathon seven tournaments in eight weeks plan, it’s interesting to note that he only needs two more PGA Tour titles to become lifetime exempt on the PGA Tour. In a standard year, the former world No. 1 would have no problem rattling off two titles. He’s done that five times since 2010, having four wins in his best season.
The lifetime exempt category, which comes with 20 victories, means he could enter any PGA Tour event for the rest of his life, as long as it’s not an invitational. Of course, he will probably be invited to those.
McIlroy’s currently on 18 titles and has been stuck there since before COVID interrupted everything last spring. It’s hard to believe someone as young as he is could be closing in on a lifetime exemption. But he is that good. It would put him in the same category, PGA Tour-wise, as legends like Greg Norman and Hale Irwin. He’d be four behind Dustin Johnson who blew right through 20 and leapt right up to 24, tied with Gary Player. Johnson is three years older than McIlroy so there’s plenty of time.
As we all know, McIlroy can get on hot streaks. He can win a tournament and keep going and win another, even if he takes a week off now and again. So, it’s possible, if his game rounds into form, that he could crack the 20 mark by the Masters. His eight weeks will take him through The Players, where he’s the only person to defend the same title twice, thanks to COVID which cancelled his defense last year.
There’s some method to his seven of eight madness.
“I feel like the more I play, the more I’ll get comfortable with my game and know where it is,” he said at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. “I just thought it was a good opportunity to sort of hit the ground running this week.”
Currently he’s playing the Waste Management Open for the first time. The master plan, we presume, is to give him a chance to be tournament tough for the Masters.
“I think winning and being in contention and playing good rounds of golf, that’s the best way to prepare for going into major championships,” he noted about his new scheme.
He added Waste Management to his calendar because he was told it was a good fit for his game. And, he added, he was already on the west coast, having just played the Farmers.
If driving is any indication of the state of his sharpness, he admitted to a 340-yard drive on the 10th hole of TPC Scottsdale in the first round of the Waste Management when the morning was still quite cool. So, he has taken advantage of his skill with the driver.
However, he and his caddie haven’t quite gotten the hang of playing for the valley effect on the greens at TPC Scottsdale. The valley effect means the land near the mountains north of town, where the course is located, falls off toward downtown Scottsdale. It means putts will break in that direction, just as putts in the American Express used to break toward Indio. It’s not Indio that influences them. It’s the Salton Sea which is 238.31 ft below sea level. Indio is 16 feet below sea level. But the courses that used to be in the American Express when that saying came about were all closer to Palm Springs, which is at a much higher elevation than Indio. About 500 feet higher, so no wonder the putts break that direction.
In Scottsdale, the golf course is at 1532 feet, and downtown Scottsdale is 1257 feet, so just as gravity pulls golf balls toward the Salton Sea at the American Express, gravity pulls golf balls toward downtown Scottsdale at the Waste Management Open. Golfers have to play for it because at the end of a putt, the ball will curve off in that direction.
This week, McIlroy faces a gaggle of very good players including a revitalized Brooks Keopka, an always dangerous Jon Rahm, the reincarnated Steve Stricker and plenty of others.
So, can he overcome the valley effect and stay away from prickly pear cactus the rest of this week and make it to victory No. 19? We are about to find out.