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McIlroy Hopes to Kick-Start Year in Houston
So far, the 2013 season hasn't been kind to Rory McIlroy despite high expectations for the 23-year-old Northern Irishman. After all, he was ranked No. 1 in the world and coming off a 2012 that saw him lead both the PGA and European tours in earnings and be named the player of the year on both circuits.
But an equipment switch, though very lucrative - some estimates are that his Nike deal is worth $250 million over 10 years - initially didn't work very well. He missed the cut in his first event, the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship, and then, as the top overall seed, fell to 64th-seeded Shane Lowry in the first round of the WGC-World Match Play Championship.
Worse, he walked off after completing only eight holes of his second round at the Honda Classic. Seven-over par at the time, he cited a toothache for his sudden mid-round withdrawal, but later issued a mea culpa saying such a hasty departure was the wrong thing to do, especially since he was the tournament's defending champion and it set a bad example for young golfers.
McIlroy finally performed well in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, shooting rounds of 73, 69, 71 and 65, the latter of which was particularly heartening.
He hasn't played a competitive round since March 10 at Doral, so his return to action in this week's Shell Houston Open will be watched closely. With his third win of the year last weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, fellow Nike player Tiger Woods swooped past McIlroy to take over the No. 1 ranking.
McIlroy is curious to see how he does this week. The $6.2 million event at the Redstone Tournament Course in Humble, Texas, starts Thursday. "I want to get back to getting into contention in tournaments and trying to win," he told reporters Tuesday.
McIlroy also said he was unconcerned about the No. 1 ranking and all that, saying those kinds of things sort themselves out with stellar golf. "It's always nice to say that you're on top of the world and top of the rankings but if you play the golf that you want to and win the tournaments that you want to, then that takes care of itself," he noted.
He'll be paired in the opening round with Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley. The trio will tee off on the first hole at 12:50 p.m. (For all the tee times, visit http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/shell-houston-open/tee-times.html.)
Here's what McIroy had to tell the media during his sit-down with them on Tuesday.
MODERATOR: All right. Rory McIlroy, thanks for joining us for a few minutes here at the 2013 Shell Houston Open. Your third start here at the Shell Houston Open, '09 and '10, I believe, and actually your only start in the state of Texas came right here at the Shell Houston Open. Just with that, a couple of comments on being back here and looking forward to the week.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. You know, the course here at Redstone is a course that I've always enjoyed playing. I sort of just changed my schedule after 2010 leading up to the Masters and wanted to take, you know, a week or two off before that and obviously this year with the slight change it really works having this tournament and then the week off to prepare for Augusta, so, I thought it really fit in nicely and glad to be back.
MODERATOR: Okay. With that we'll take some questions.
Q. Was is the state of your game? You haven't played a lot of competitive rounds this year. You've taken the week off. Where is your game at right now?
RORY MCILROY: It feel pretty good. The last competitive round I played was the last day at Doral and shot 65. Felt like I saw a got of good things there. You know, it's been going well in practice and obviously it's a lot different out on the course but I definitely saw some good signs at Doral and looking forward to getting back and playing this competitive course this week.
Q. Are you feeling comfortable with the clubs, equipment?
RORY MCILROY: Everything is good at this point.
Q. Wanted to get your thoughts on Tiger's victory yesterday.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, it was good. I didn't see much of it at all, to be honest, during the week, only the weather was bad, they had to play yesterday but yeah, it was great. Spoke to him this morning, congratulated him so he looks like he's playing really, really well and putting really, really well. So, yeah, great - he's obviously won three times this year and back to the top of the world rankings and he just seems like he's in a really good place on the course, off the course. So, it's good to see.
Q. With him taking over the No. 1 ranking, does that motivate you more to get back to that spot?
RORY MCILROY: No, not really. It sort of - I think as he said yesterday, it was a by-product of playing well and winning golf tournaments. He's done that more than anyone this year and, you know, if he can take care of that, then that takes care of itself. So, you know, like I said, it's always nice to say that you're on top of the world and top of the rankings but if you play the golf that you want to and win the tournaments that you want to, then that takes care of itself.
Q. To be No. 1 now seems it's going to takeover the year, the next few months. Are you comfortable with that? It's going to be an ongoing debate, battle, supposed battle between yourself and Tiger.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. It doesn't really bother me. I want to get back to getting into contention in tournaments and trying to win. I think this is a good week to try and get into contention and be - you know, have a chance with the Masters coming up but, yeah, I mean I'm just really focused on this week in Houston and trying to play well here.
Q. Did you ring him Rory? Tiger was saying yesterday there's a banter between the two of you on this subject.
RORY MCILROY: I texted him this morning. I thought I would just let it all sort of die down yesterday and texted him this morning. He's ready to go and play at the Tavistock. Texted him said, "Well done." Hadn't spoken to him in a couple weeks. Just congratulated him and stuff as well and he said everything was good there. Told me to get my finger out of my ass and win this week.
Q. Rory, do you treat this tournament as a Masters tune-up or do you treat this tournament as its own entity and a tournament that's certainly worth winning?
RORY MCILROY: I definitely treat this tournament as its own entity and a tournament that's worth winning. Obviously I think it fits really well into the schedule. It's not a week before the Masters. It works really well. I'm focused on trying to win this week and trying to play as well as I can here.
Q. The psychological benefit of winning the tournament?
RORY MCILROY: Of course and getting into contention, having that feeling, you know, going into Augusta.
Q. The organizers here have gone to great length to try to duplicate some of the course conditions. Obviously this is not Augusta National. Do you think they succeed in that?
RORY MCILROY: I think they do. I think they get the green speeds very similar to the length of the runoffs around the greens, the rough height, everything - I think that's why a lot of guys come and play because of that, they try and, as you said, it's not Augusta National but try and set it up as similarly as they can.
Q. Rory, talk about your relationship with Tiger and how that's developed over the years.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. It sort of developed more over the last couple of years, I guess playing more together in tournaments and spending more time around each other. But it's been good. I enjoy his company. He gives me a lot of grief and I try to give him some back but it's good. He's fun to be around.
Q. What does it mean to golf to have him where he is now?
RORY MCILROY: It's huge. He's been the man in golf for the last 15 years, I guess, and it's great for golf to have him playing well and, you know, hopefully I can just try and keep up with him.
Q. Did you fully expect him to win last week, Rory, after what he did at Doral? Did you fully expect him to come through?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. I mean after - I guess after the first couple of days I saw he was up there close to the lead and he was making a bit of a run on Saturday and when he was going into Sunday with the lead I thought maybe Justin looked like he was playing well, he should have a run at him. Rickie seemed like he was playing well. But he's played so well at Bay Hill. It's the last one, it's sort of automatic.
Q. You always said you wanted to play Tiger in his prime. It looks like he's getting back there.
RORY MCILROY: For sure. As I said at the start it seems like everything looks very solid, seems like he's driving the ball very well. His iron play has always been really, really good and seems like whatever tips Stricker gave him at Doral is definitely working. So, yeah, he's playing great and any tournament I'm playing in I'll have to play my best to sort of beat him but it's not just about, you know, him and me, there's 154 other guys in the field that have a chance to win.
Q. If he had slipped, is it now back to where it was before in terms of the way that you and other competitors look at it?
RORY MCILROY: I guess - I think his consistency is definitely back and he's playing well week-in, week-out. When he was going through the first part of the swing changes with Sean, some weeks he had it, some weeks he didn't. It seems like most weeks he comes out, he's hitting the ball very solidly and anyone that's going to beat him is going to have to play very, very well.
Q. Is it useful for you to see what he's been through when you have your own hiccups, say, it's going to happen to him, it's probably going to happen to all of us?
RORY MCILROY: Of course. We're not machines. We're humans. We go through highs and lows. It's just sport and that's golf. You're going to have patches where you play great and have patches where you struggle a little bit. I guess you just got to take the rough and the smooth and just try and treat those, I guess treat those times, sort of play and be patient and know that you're working on right things.
Q. You mentioned Tiger being in a good place on and off the course. Do you think you'll ever get to a point where you're comfortable, with so much interest in your off the course activities and people wanting to know where are you in that kind of place when you're -
RORY MCILROY: I guess I have sort of got used to it over the past couple of years: It's okay. You go and just try to live your life as normally as you can.
Q. Do you think though that there's too much interest in something other than your actual play?
RORY MCILROY: It's just the way of the world, social media and everything being so instant these days. I guess it's just part of life.
Q. Everyone is talking about Tiger and the Masters. For awhile it was you.
RORY MCILROY: Nice.
Q. Do you enjoy it?
RORY MCILROY: I didn't think I could go into the Masters under the radar. I can sort of - I can go in a little bit underneath him so in a way it's not a bad thing.
Q. Rory, since you spent so much time with him and you've seen him enough, is there an aspect of his game or his off the course that you admire enough that you'd like to try to emulate?
RORY MCILROY: I've always said he's been one of the greatest fighters on a golf course, you know, if things aren't going his way he'll dig in and get whatever he can out of a round. He just sticks in there. That's one of his biggest things. He can repeat day-in, day-out that attitude and that, I guess single-mindedness or that drive or motivation, whatever you want to call it, I think that's his most impressive aspect.
Q. Were you so desperate to hit balls that you went to a public golf course to hit them, at least that's what reported? Could you not find another place in Miami that suited you or -
RORY MCILROY: It was fine. I brought my own balls with me. They collected them. They give me them again the next day. It was nice. The turf was okay. People left me alone. It was fine. It was close - it was on Key Biscayne, close to tennis. Means I didn't have to drive too far. I got to know the people around the club and asked them if it was okay. Even though it's a public golf course, of course it's going to be okay. Yeah, it was totally fine and people left me alone and it was good. I was actually hitting balls on Saturday night at Jonovich. Caroline was there, too. Yeah, it was a good week, fun week. Actually got some good practice in so it was nice.
Q. How good is Jonovich?
RORY MCILROY: He's got a good back swing. Lot of rotation for a tennis player. Needs a lot of work on some other stuff.
Q. You answered this a minute ago, is there a sense of relief not to be No. 1 at the moment?
RORY MCILROY: I guess at the minute, yeah, with me trying to get my game back to where I think it can be. You know, it's nice to just go - not just go about my business and no one cares, but you go about it and not be, I guess, the most talked about person in golf. It's a nice thing.
Q. When you go and play, hit balls as you did at the muni range, does that kind take you back to what golf, the essence of golf and why you started playing golf?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, exactly. You go and you hit balls because you want to and you love the game, and yeah. I wanted to go and practice and that was the closest place and it's totally fine for me that I go and practice with everyone else. It's no big deal.
MODERATOR: Before we let you go we were talking on the way over, next week, if you could just kind of fill us in on what you're doing next week. That was a pretty interesting story.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. I get out of here on Sunday night and then I leave for Haiti early Monday morning, going to my second UNICEF field trip there. I went in June, 2011, so it's going to be a couple years. It will be good, great to go back, I guess, to see the improvement that have been made and the improvements that still need to be made. And the last time I went it was a very humbling place and it was a very eye opening experience for me so it will be another experience to go back there and see what it's like and, as I've always said, me in the business that it's nice to be able to do these things and raise awareness for these causes and I feel like it's something that has been pretty close to me since I've been there and I'm just excited to go back and see the improvements that have been made and I mean try and help with the improvements that still need to be made.
Q. Rory, is Michael with you this week?
RORY MCILROY: He is, yes.
Q. The work you said you did last week and what came out of Doral, how confident are you about your game now then, let's say, before you went into Honda?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, a lot more confident. The things that I'm trying to work on are definitely becoming a lot more comfortable. I've seen enough good signs. The weekend at Doral was great and the way I've been hitting the ball recently. So, you know, I just got to keep working on it and keep working on it and - but, you know, I definitely feel like it's going in the right direction.
Q. What would be a good week's work here for you?
RORY MCILROY: I guess getting into contention is the main goal, try to have a chance to win on Sunday so, then, you know, we'll go from there.
Q. Do you even know what you need to do to get back to No. 1?
RORY MCILROY: No. I don't have a clue. Thanks.
DOUG MILNE: All right. Rory, we appreciate your time as always. Best of luck.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.