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Is Rory Back?
Perhaps Rory McIlroy was as relieved as anything following his closing 7-under 65 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. After all, he not only tamed the fearsome TPC Blue Monster at Doral but allayed widespread concerns that his once-vaunted game was in need of a complete reconstruction.
And who was to doubt that dire possibility after the ignominious start to his year? In the season-opener, the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship, he missed the cut following a big media splash prior to the tournament with fellow Nike staffer, Tiger Woods.
And then as the overall top seed in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, McIlroy fell hard to 64th-seed Shane Lowry in the first round. Making matters worse, McIlroy withdrew midway through the second round of last week's Honda Classic, where he was the defending champion.
Though he cited a bad toothache as the reason for walking off the course, McIlroy was 7-over par through eight holes at the time, which led many observers to not only question his motives but criticize the 23-year-old for bagging it when the going got tough and depriving the tournament of one of its marquee players.
Things weren't all rosy for McIlroy, initially anyway, at Doral, as he opened with rounds of 73, 69 and 71 before his startling 65. But that score - the second-lowest on Sunday - reminded everyone what a talent he is when in tip-top form.
Instead of taking that momentum into the upcoming Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy won't return to competition until the Shell Houston Open March 28-31, preferring instead to play in a pro-am with basketball great Michael Jordan, further hone his game and get more acclimated to his new Nike clubs.
On Sunday evening, McIlroy - who ended up tied for eighth at 278, nine shots behind winner Woods - discussed his closing round as well as his early-season travails. Here's what the young Ulsterman had to tell reporters during a post-round Q&A.
Q. Can you talk about your round a little bit? It must be great to go bogey free on a day like today.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure. I guess that was what I needed to do this week, because I made plenty of birdies and a couple of eagles and stuff. It was the bogeys and the others that were killing me. So to play a round out there today with the conditions the way they are, you know, was very pleasing. It was pleasing to see some of the shots I hit out there and able to convert some of them on the greens, too. It was a good score out there, and a lot of positive signs going into the next few weeks.
Q. How much have the last couple days done for your confidence and your state of mind?
RORY McILROY: A lot. I think most of you guys know, I probably wear my heart on my sleeve a bit with my golf. If I have a bad round, it's sort of like the end of the world, but if I play a good one, I'm happy again. You know, that's just the way it goes. I was pretty down about my game coming into this week, but a few days like I've played, you know, it does my confidence a world of good.
Q. Is there a point this week where you stop thinking and start playing?
RORY McILROY: No. I'm thinking every shot, same thing, that hasn't changed.
Q. Was there a moment, like a Eureka moment, like that's what it is, now just keep doing it?
RORY McILROY: Thursday night on the range. I felt like, just keep doing this, keep doing the rehearsals. Had a good range session then. Went out on Friday, played a lot better, and then continued that on over the weekend.
Q. Given the way you were feeling coming into this event, did you expect a day like today?
RORY McILROY: No, a day like today felt like a long way away if I'm honest. Just goes to show, if you get something and it likes ok for you, it's not as far a away as you think. That's been one of my problems; I always think when I'm playing bad that it's further away than it is. And I guess that's just where I have to stay patient, and you know, let whatever happens, happens, and know that if I put in the hard work, that the results will bear fruit; whether that's sooner or later, it doesn't really matter.
Q. Is that one of the lessons that you have learned in this episode, as it were?
RORY McILROY: I guess so, yeah.
Q. When you look at the leaderboard and see Tiger and Phil and you're playing better, do you get excited over the next few weeks?
RORY McILROY: Not for those guys. I'm excited for myself. I'm excited that I'm playing better (laughs).
Q. Are you playing with Michael Jordan next week?
RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. He's asked me, so depending on what my schedule is and where I have to be, I've got a few things to do next week, so we'll see.
Q. As a kid from Northern Ireland, where does he enter your realm of who he is, as a kid?
RORY McILROY: I started to get into the NBA whenever I first came over here and played junior golf and stuff. Obviously I knew who he was. He's one of the most famous athletes ever. It's good to know him, see him around the Bear's Club all the time. It's sort of like, you know, "Hi, MJ." I don't know, it's weird.
Q. Have you played him for money -
RORY McILROY: No, I haven't played him for money. I've heard it's a lot, anyway. Whether it's easy or not, it's a lot.
Q. After going through a lot emotionally the last two weeks, has it taken a lot out of you?
RORY McILROY: A little bit. I'm looking forward to just getting back and working on my game a bit more I guess. I'm not secluding myself, but sort of get away from this whole thing a bit and work on my game a bit more in peace and quiet; and get out to Houston and hopefully my game is even better shape going into there.
Q. What do you have planned now?
RORY McILROY: I'll practice as hard as I can. Next week I've got Ernie's (Els) Pro Am to play (Monday). I've got a few bits and pieces; I'm shooting an ad for the European Tour I think on Tuesday. I've got a few bits and pieces to do, and Caroline will come into town at the weekend or something and I'll spend a bit of time with her.
Q. You've played so much with Tiger the last couple of years, and the dominance we are seeing this week, is this sort of what you expect or you figured this was going to happen again for him like this?
RORY McILROY: To be honest I've never really thought about it that much. You know, I guess back when I was - wasn't at the level I was at, obviously I would. But now I'm thinking about myself more and I mean, whatever he does is sort of irrelevant to me. I've just got to go and try to play the best golf that I can.
Q. How big a confidence boost was that start you had today?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was great. I hit like - the 7 iron I hit into the first was one of the best shots I've hit, so that was a big confidence boost. Gave me some good feelings from the very start.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.