Could playoffs take toll on McIlroy?

PARAMUS, N.J. -- The late summer has been a boon for Rory McIlroy, who comes into the Barclays this week off three consecutive wins, including two major championships.

Yet he has four consecutive weeks of FedEx Cup playoffs events and the Ryder Cup before he takes a break in the early fall.

On Wednesday at the Ridgewood Country Club, the site of the first leg of the playoffs, the 25-year-old Northern Irishman was reminded that Padraig Harrington, the most recent player to win the season's last two majors in 2008, didn't even make the playoff finale at the Tour Championship.

Harrington, who didn't qualify for this year's series, missed his first two cuts of the 2008 playoffs and finished in a tie for 55th in the BMW Championship to miss the finale in Atlanta.

McIlroy, who is first in the FedEx Cup standings, laughed off the notion that he would have the same fate as Harrington.

"That's not going to happen," he said.

Yet his hectic schedule raises some serious concerns about his endurance for this grueling stretch of golf that ends with the Ryder Cup in late September.

Will he run out of energy over the next month as he tries to win the playoffs and help the European side capture its third straight Ryder Cup?

A playoffs title is one of the only things, McIlroy said on Wednesday, that he hasn't achieved on tour.

"For me, it would just be very gratifying to know that I finished the season off well and the way that it should be finished off," he said. "I think it would be a shame if I'm playing this good golf and to -- I could just say, look, you know, I've had a great year, it's been an awesome summer.

"I want to be up there in contention week in, week out. So I'm going to just grind out every week that I can until I get a little bit of a break after the Ryder Cup."

At the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, Harrington, the European team leader off his stellar play that summer, went 0-3-1 in his four matches in a resounding 16-11 beating by the U.S. team.

Harrington admitted during those 2008 FedEx Cup playoffs that winning could exact a certain mental toil.

"I'm a player who plays with an awful lot of intensity when I do play, and I do notice the difference when I'm not 100 percent fresh and mentally strong," Harrington said. "It takes a lot out of me in any given week, and I do put a lot in. You know, I get quite an adrenaline rush out of winning tournaments or doing well in tournaments, so there is a little bit of a lull afterwards."

Earlier this month after the PGA, McIlroy responded to these same questions.

"It is [tough] to be up there with the lead week in and week out and trying to win these big golf tournaments," he said. "It's tough mentally and physically.

"It sort of makes you appreciate more what Tiger has done in the past and getting on these runs that he's gone on and keeping it going for months on end."

There is no question that McIlroy has the game and desire to continue his run this week at Ridgewood Country Club with a fourth consecutive victory. If he does pull off this feat, it would be more proof of his endurance as a champion. But there is also the chance that he could be so worn out by late September at the Ryder Cup that he is not performing at his full powers.

We will learn a lot the next several weeks about the newest four-time major champion. He knows how important it is for him as the star attraction in these events to play well.

Still, on Wednesday, he said he didn't see the need for him to carry any torch for the game.

"I'm just going to keep playing my golf and play as good as I can, and I'll see where that takes me," he said. "But I don't think any torch has been passed, and I don't think any torch will ever be passed, because I never think of myself in that way."

Yet if McIlroy continues to win, it will more than signify some figurative passing of the torch to him from Tiger Woods -- whom, when he was great, had long spurts of dominance without ever seeming to succumb to the stresses and pressures of always being on top.

So far this summer, McIlroy has proved he has the mettle to also endure long stretches of superior play. With or without the playoffs win, he's still the game's player of the year. A great playoffs and an equally superb Ryder Cup would add to his growing mystique as a player fully coming into his own as the greatest player in the world, comfortable and fearless in the spotlight.