Golf: McIlroy in title hunt even without his 'A' game

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the third hole during the third round of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola at the East Lake Golf Club on Sept 13, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. -- PHOTO: AFP
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the third hole during the third round of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola at the East Lake Golf Club on Sept 13, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. -- PHOTO: AFP

ATLANTA (REUTERS) - As Rory McIlroy hunts his fifth tournament win of the year at this week's Tour Championship, his rivals could well feel a sense of foreboding that the world No. 1 is tied for the lead despite not playing at his best.

Just as Tiger Woods in his heyday used to intimidate his peers by contending for titles even when not possessing his 'A' game, the Ulsterman has swept to the top of the leader board at East Lake Golf Club without playing at his best.

"It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that even when my golf game isn't feeling 100 percent, I can still tee it up and get it around, grind the score out," he told reporters after shooting a three-under-par 67 in Saturday's third round.

"Today could have been a 71 or a 72, but all of a sudden it's a 67 and I'm tied for the lead. I think that really just comes from experience, and not pushing too hard.

"The last few weeks, I definitely haven't played the sort of golf that I've played over the couple of months... but I'm still able to get myself up to the top of the leader board and you can only take confidence from that."

McIlroy, who has already enjoyed a brilliant 2014 campaign, clinching two major titles among four wins worldwide, mixed three birdies with two bogeys and a spectacular eagle at the par-five 15th to end the day level with American Billy Horschel.

Good friends who teed off together on Saturday, they will again be paired in Sunday's final round at East Lake, where the PGA Tour's season finale, FedExCup honours and a mind-boggling bonus of US$10 million (S$12.6 million) are on the line.

For McIlroy, however, another tournament win and a first-ever FedExCup crown are all that matters. The money is incidental.

"I don't think I've ever thought about money on the golf course," said the 25-year-old, who won back-to-back majors this season at the British Open and PGA Championship, sandwiched around his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. "Money's never been the biggest deal to me at all. Even my closest friends and family will tell you that.

"It's nice to have it, and you can do a lot with it and you can help a lot of people with it, but it's never been one of my main focuses or priorities about becoming a professional golfer."

McIlroy is one of just five players in the elite field of 29 at East Lake automatically guaranteed the overall play-off prize if he wins the Tour Championship, as is Horschel.

"I'm just trying to win another tournament," said McIlroy, who is a heavy favourite to land Player of the Year honours on the PGA Tour once the season is over.

"I'm just trying to win my 10th PGA Tour event, and my fourth of the season. Obviously, I know what comes along with the FedExCup and cash and all the rest of it.

"But I just want to get myself back in the winner's circle again, even though it hasn't been that long. It's been three events, and I've got a very good opportunity to do it tomorrow."