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Can Rory Get Back on Track in Beantown?


Rory McIlroy was on a high heading into last year's Deutsche Bank Championship. The dashing young Northern Irishman was three weeks removed from the second major of his young career - the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island - and continued his outstanding play when he won at TPC Boston.

The very next week, he won the third leg of the four-event FedEx Cup Playoffs, the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick in Indiana. Those victories cemented his taking Player-of-the-Year honors on both the PGA and European tours, and led to McIlroy becoming the No. 1 player in golf.

Following a victory in Dubai last November, McIlroy, now 24, hasn't visited the winner's circle since. After signing a lucrative contract with Nike at the first of the year, followed by some alterations in his once-natural swing, the Ulsterman has rarely been in contention, slipping from first to fourth in the world rankings.

McIlroy comes into the Deutsche Bank Championship ranked 36th in points in the FedEx Cup Playoffs after a T19 finish in last week's Barclays at Liberty National. In 14 starts in 2013, he's made 12 cuts and had five top-10 finishes en route to earnings of $1,763,936, about $6.4 million less than he pocketed on the PGA Tour last year.

But McIlroy, ever the optimist, believes he'll play well at TPC Boston this week, just like he did last year when he finished at 20-under 264, a stroke ahead of South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen.

McIlroy, who'll be paired in the first round with Spain's Sergio Garcia and South Korean Sang-Moon Bae, met with reporters Thursday on the eve of the Deutsche Bank Championship, which tees off Friday and finishes Labor Day. Here's what the defending championship had to tell the media about the state of his game and his chances to repeat this week.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Rory McIlroy, defending champion of the Deutsche Bank Championship. Thanks for joining us for a few minutes. Making your third start at TPC Boston. Obviously you know how last year turned out. With all that said you've got a round in after the pro am today. A few comments about being back.

RORY McILROY: It's always nice to come back and defend a tournament. This time last year I was on a nice little run coming off of winning the PGA and a nice little two weeks here and the next week as well. Good memories from last year, played well, had I a good battle with Louis for the last couple of days. Yeah, the course is a little more receptive than I remember it being last year. And it's obviously a little cold, a little damp this morning, so the ball wasn't traveling quite as far. The course played quite long. But it's in beautiful condition, great shape. Looking forward to getting started tomorrow.

Q. I don't know how to ask this question, on a scale of like one to 10, with 10 being super-ready to win and one being hopeless, where do you put yourself in being capable of winning this week. How is that?

RORY McILROY: Yeah. I'm up there like 8 or 9 - I'm feeling good about my game. I still can't believe 11 under won last week at Barclays. I thought shooting 6 under for the first two days, if you had told me I would shoot another 6 under I would have said I would have been a couple of shots short. Just couldn't quite get anything going over the weekend. I just needed to hole a few. The putts sort of dried up on me a little bit on the weekend last week. So get the ball rolling a little better on the greens. And hopefully get myself into contention again.

Q. Are you just getting tired of people asking you what's wrong or is that your own fault because you set the bar so high?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean I don't think there's anything wrong. I've played pretty well at times this year. Five top 10s, and I feel like my game is definitely running in a little bit of form. I guess I'm a victim of my own success at times. But I know how well I can play and you guys know how well I can play and I want to get back to that level.

Q. Given how the year has gone, have your goals sort of changed? And secondly, what do you hope to get out of this week and the next few weeks?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean I reset my goals, I guess, just before Akron. At that point I had ten tournaments left in the season, it's actually gone up to 12, but set a few goals for myself until the end of the year. So just going about trying to practice as well and as hard as I can to try to achieve those little goals I've set for myself. What I'm trying to get out of this week is just trying to move up in the FedEx Cup. Going into the little week break that we have next week, playing myself into a nice position, that I can go into Chicago and play well. And maybe get myself into the top five in the standings, something like that, so I actually have a chance to still win the thing going into Atlanta. I know I'll need to produce a couple of really good finishes to do that, but I feel like I'm playing well enough to do that.

Q. Can you elaborate on what those goals are, and how different they were from obviously the beginning of the year?

RORY McILROY: No, not even people around me know what those goals were, I'd rather keep them to myself.

Q. You indicated that you are playing better, but are you a believer in getting any kind of a boost, if you go back to a place where you've had success?

RORY McILROY: Definitely. I think when you come back to golf courses that you've played well at before, it gives you a nice, positive boost. It's nice, as well, to come back to places a defend at the same course. Sometimes you defend at different courses or it doesn't quite feel the same. But to come back to the same course and defend is a nice feeling. I usually play well at courses I have done well at before. So hopefully it's the same this week.

Q. I like the fact that you rarely duck tough questions, so I've got one. I know the season still has a couple of weeks left, but who would you vote Player of the Year right now, if you had to vote?

RORY McILROY: I don't think there's any other choice than Tiger Woods. Five wins and obviously being very dominant this year. And he's got a four or five point lead in the World Rankings, won more money than anyone else, I don't see how it could be anyone else.

Q. Talking about the success you've had here last year. Do you look at film from last year, like other sports, film that people watch, is it like that in golf and do you do that?

RORY McILROY: A little bit, yeah, sometimes, if you've - it's nice to watch back, and especially when you've played well, and you watch back the good tournaments. Not just to see how you swung or hit shots, but all your body languages and how you carry yourself and maybe pick up a few things from that. But, yeah, I think it's always good to look back and look back on the good weeks that you've had.

Q. You said a minute ago when you were resetting your goals prior to Akron, 10 tournaments, and then it became 12, what were the other two?

RORY McILROY: Australia and Tiger's.

Q. And secondly, go back to last year, there was a pretty good battle with a guy who a lot of people think has got the most gorgeous swing in golf, who is now on the shelf right now. How much do you take health for granted, do you think, players in their 20s, going forward? A guy like Louis, who I think he's getting better, by the way, but at that age to miss pretty much half the majors. And you had some minor back issues, didn't you?

RORY McILROY: I had some minor back issues at the start of 2010. And it's not nice. I mean it's more frustrating than anything else. And I don't take it for granted because I've sort of been there before and I work out, I stretch, I look after myself to try and stay healthy so that I can prolong my career and play and swing the way I want to until the day that I retire, I guess. You look at someone like Tiger Woods who's had to go through three swing changes because - the latest one because he can't put as much load on his left knee as he used to, and I don't really want to - I don't want to reach that point.

Someone like Louis, as you said, has got one of the best swings out here. It's tough to not see him out here and competing in major championships and a chance to win a second at Augusta last year. You want to be healthy and you want to be playing the biggest tournaments. And I'm sure he's itching to get back out here. I'm not sure if he can make Presidents Cup or not, or what the deal is. But it would be nice to see him get back for that.

Q. (Inaudible.)

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I like watching it. It's sort of - it gives you a little bit - I liked watching the one - I didn't watch the one for Melbourne a couple of years ago, but the ones in the States I pay attention to a little bit more.

Q. Not to jump too far ahead, here, but the off week, next week, in terms of layoffs, just curious to get your thoughts on how you'll spend it and just your overall thoughts, particularly if you play well here this week, do you feel like that could maybe cut into your momentum? And secondly, is there a preference of when that would be for you?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I guess it was something that worked against me last year. I'd won - I almost like would have went straight to the Tour Championship from the BMW, because I was on such a run. But you need a rest, as well, at some point. If I play well this week it's nice to go into the last week knowing that you've played well. All I want to do is just keep trying to improve my position. And I'd love to make a big jump this week. And obviously jump into the sort of competitive places going into The Tour Championship.

Q. Is there a week you'd like to see it slotted or does it just sort of depend?

RORY McILROY: I think either or, the two and two sort of works pretty well. Two on, one off, two on s I think works pretty well. But, yeah, but I think it's good to have these four weeks broken up by a week off somewhere in there. And either if that's right in the middle of - between a couple or if it's a week off after the third one, I don't think it really matters too much.

Q. How was the tennis tournament?

RORY McILROY: It was good. I was only there for one day. But it's still going on, obviously. So, yeah, it was good.

Q. Last year she was here following you, and you won this tournament. I'm taking it you're hoping that she's not here watching?

RORY McILROY: I hope she's not, no. She's playing tonight, so obviously I'll be tuning in for that.

Q. Curious about your thoughts on the overall format, the FedEx Cup format. Obviously you're in a way to play your way into Eastlake and maybe have a chance to make a run at the standings versus last year, you win twice and don't make the ultimate prize?

RORY McILROY: I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum, trying to play my way into the Tour Championship, and play my way into the competitive places and give myself a chance to win. Last year, going into the Tour Championship, as the No.1. I'm playing okay, I mean finished 10th, but Brandt was in that fourth or fifth position and he wins the tournament and wins the whole thing. Obviously being in those top five places going into The Tour Championship gives you a huge advantage, because you don't have to rely on other people. If you win the tournament you win the whole thing outright. I'd have to play really well in the next couple of tournaments to get myself into those top five places. Hopefully I can. And hopefully I can be competitive, and still have a chance to win the FedEx Cup going into London.

Q. From your position as a golf fan, what do you consider to be the single greatest shot struck in a major?

RORY McILROY: I thought the playoff at the Masters was - I thought (Angel) Cabrera's shot into 18 in Augusta was incredible to get into the playoff. And then I thought the standard of the playoff, the two shots the guys hit into the 10th hole was really impressive. I didn't see much of Merion. I watched a lot of the Open. I think the most impressive in the majors was Phil's 66 or 65 - 66 to win at Muirfield. I thought that was incredible. It's not nice to be able to watch the entire U.S. Open championship on the weekend.

MODERATOR: Good luck this weekend.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.