Tiger Woods checks his progress on the TPC Boston practice range with swing coach Sean Foley (Photo: Emily Kay)

Norton, Mass. — If Rory McIlroy didn’t know better, the two-time major winner from Northern Ireland might believe he was playing to a hometown crowd at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

“There’s a few people — not a few, there’s a lot of people around this area that have Irish roots,” McIlroy told reporters before playing in a pro-am tournament at TPC Boston, site of this week’s second in a series of four FedEx Cup events. “And they’re not afraid to say that, either.”

Still, with local boy Keegan Bradley and Massachusetts native Scott Stallings in the field this week, McIlroy did not expect the fans to put him into the winner’s circle.

“I don’t feel like it gives me any sort of home comfort or anything like that,” said McIlroy, who’s the oddsmakers’ co-favorite (along with Tiger Woods) to cask the $1,440,000 victor’s check on Monday night, “but it’s nice to have a lot of people out here that are supporting me.”

McIlroy will be making his second start at TPC Boston, having missed last year’s tourney when he was not a member of the PGA Tour. With a strong start to his 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship, the reigning PGA champ returned to the venue with good memories.

“It’s a course that I enjoyed,” McIlroy said. “I think I shot 64 in the first round here the last time I played, so obviously I’ve played some good golf around here, and hopefully want to do more of the same this week.”

While happy to return to a course he deemed favorable to long hitters, McIlroy was looking beyond this week’s tilt to the $10 million jackpot that the winner of the season-ending Tour Championship will pocket — and to next month’s Ryder Cup. Despite dropping from second to fourth place in the FedEx Cup points standings after finishing in a tie for 24th place at last week’s Barclays event, McIlroy had already sewn up a spot in the final two playoff bouts and was  confident about his chances.

“Excited to get going and in a great position in the playoffs,” McIlroy said. “ A couple good weeks will set me up for a good run at it at the Tour Championship. So yeah, hopefully a good week coming up.”

With the upcoming Ryder Cup matches a favorite topic of conversation this week, McIlroy said he looked forward to exerting a leadership role in the biennial match against the U.S. at Medinah Country Club in September. He may be the youngest member of his European team, but the 23-year-old who played in his first Ryder Cup in 2010 said he would not be shy about voicing his opinions.

“I know there are a lot of older guys than me that are going to be on the European team, but I feel like I’m in a position where I’d be one of the leaders of that team and if I feel strongly about something, I’ll voice that,” McIlroy said about such issues as order of play and the with whom you wish to play.

“I think the big thing about the Ryder Cup is you have to be a good team member,” said McIlroy. “You can’t be afraid to voice your opinion. If you really feel strongly about something in the team room, you’ve got to stand up and speak.”

Speaking of Woods (and who isn’t, with the world No. 3 back in Boston for the first time in two years?), the 2006 Deutsche Bank champ spent an extended session on the practice range with swing coach Sean Foley following his early-morning pro-am and afternoon press conference. After missing last year’s tourney because he failed to qualify for the playoffs, Woods said he was pleased to return to a track that was “in absolute perfect shape.”

His game, however, he said was just a tad off course, which is why he scheduled time with Foley.

“I played all right today,” Woods said. “I worked on a couple things, but most of the work we’re going to do is after the round here, grab a bite to eat, then go to the range and some work with Sean for a little bit.

“I’m not that far off,” Woods concluded.


Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer