McIlroy Rides Honda Win to No. 1


The top two positions in the World Golf Ranking were suddenly switched after Rory McIlroy won the Honda Classic Sunday. The 22-year-old Northern Irishman became the second-youngest player to become the world's No. 1-ranked player after Tiger Woods did so as a 21-year-old in 1997.

Woods, now 36, showed a big resurgence of his own in the Honda Classic's final round at PGA National, carding an 8-under 62 to electrify the gallery and finish tied for second with Tom Gillis, two strokes behind the winner.

McIlroy's ascendance was not as quick as Tiger's, who needed less than a year to reach the top spot in the world of golf. Yet the Ulsterman took pride in how he supplanted Luke Donald in Monday's rankings, and particularly how he held tough on a blustery day in south Florida to maintain the lead down the stretch.

"You know, every win is very special," he said. "It depends what it means to you. I felt like the win at the end of last year at Hong Kong meant a lot to me, just because I had come close there before and it's a place that I love. But this one, with what was - with what could happen after today, with being able to go to the top of the World Rankings, it meant a lot to go out there and produce the golf that I needed to do to get the job done. It was always a dream of mine to become the world No. 1 and the best player in the world or whatever you want to call it.

"But I didn't know that I would be able to get there this quickly," McIlroy added. "I mean, it's still - I feel this is my fifth full year on Tour I think. So, yeah, it's not like it's just been right away. It's taken a little bit of time, but you know, it's fantastic to be here at the minute and hopefully I can hold onto it for a little longer."

After McIlroy accepted the Honda Classic's $1.026 million winner's check and hardware, he met with reporters for the following Q&A. Here's what the newly-minted No. 1 had to say.

MODERATOR: We would like to welcome the 2012 Honda Classic Champion, Rory McIlroy, congratulations on a very convincing win. With the win, you pick up 500 FedEx Cup points, and you move to No. 4 on the list. As well as winning The Honda Classic you move to No. 1 in the World Rankings. So with that said, just a few opening thoughts and then we'll open it up and take a few questions.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was great to get the job done today. I knew going out there the conditions would be tough, and I was just trying to make as many pars as possible, and you know, when a few opportunities presented themselves, I tried to take them. That's all I was really trying to do. Obviously I saw a couple of guys making a charge, and I heard the roar on 18 when Tiger made eagle and I was just about to line up my putt for birdie on 13, I was able to hole that putt, which was very important, and you know, I knew if I could just play the last five holes at even par, it was going to be good enough. You know, as I said, great to get the job done, and very happy to come out on top.

Q. At what point did you become aware that Tiger had made that charge and how much was that in your mind?

RORY McILROY: I wasn't really paying much attention until he made that eagle on 18. I heard the huge roar and it definitely wasn't a birdie roar. That's when I knew that he probably got to 10. You know, it was nice to have that two shot cushion going into the last five holes after holing that birdie putt.

Q. Just along those lines, how much more meaningful is it, knowing that you had to win to get to No. 1, etc., to all of a sudden have a one shot lead before your putt on 13 and then have to hold that, not make any mistakes coming in to get it done? Does it make it more meaningful than if you had led by three.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, of course, it was a lot more meaningful. I think the way I won today, as well, was great. I missed a few greens coming in. I was able to get up and down. I made a couple big par saves early as well which kept my momentum. It was just one of those days. There was a 62 and a 63 out there, which, I mean, is unbelievable playing. I just needed to focus on my game and do what I needed to do, and thankfully that's what happened.

Q. I didn't hear Doug's question. I just want to ask, does it make it better for you holding off Westwood and Tiger -

RORY McILROY: (Smiling) yes.

Q. to get this done?

RORY McILROY: Yes.

Q. Is that when he just asked?

RORY McILROY: Yes. (Laughter).

Q. Graeme afterward said that you have infinitely more confidence than you did, say, two years ago. Just wondering where that's come from and sort of how you got to that point.

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. I feel like I've always believed in my ability. It's just doing it at the right times, and I feel like I'm getting better at doing that now. I'm getting better at when I do get into contention to know what I need to do, and that just comes with experience. It comes from getting yourself in those positions. But I don't really think I can put it down to anything. It's just picking a few wins up along the way, and yeah, I mean, there's not really much I can say. I feel like I've always been a pretty confident guy. But I think I've got a lot more belief in myself now when I'm going down the stretch. I definitely don't doubt myself as much as I used to.

Q. How much confidence does your putting give you right now?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, it's been great. My putting has been really good, especially today. I made a couple of big par saves early, and then made the putts I needed to. The only one I really missed was one 12. I felt like I hit a good putt there and it didn't go in. That was big this week, saving par, which I managed to do today very well.

Q. On that putt you're talking about on No. 12, I think there was a big roar right before, do you think you were distracted a little bit?

RORY McILROY: No. To be honest I don't think so. I didn't really think about that roar at all. The only one I really heard was on 18, or I thought it was on 18, when Tiger held that eagle putt.

Q. How would you characterize your mental game and your short game compared to a year ago?

RORY McILROY: It's much better. I just feel like I can get the ball up and down more. Again, it comes from practice and just experience of maybe missing greens and experimenting with a few different shots. I felt like I got a better out of the rough. And the greens - the up and down 14 was probably the best one I had made all week. It was a terrible lie and to get that one up and down was very nice. I think that's been part of the reason why I started to become so consistent is when I do miss greens, I'm able to get it up and down and not make as many mistakes.

Q. I was going to ask you about 14, what exactly were you trying to do to give yourself a shot at par?

RORY McILROY: The third shot? I mean, it was lying right down. It landed pretty much it actually landed better than I wanted it to. It landed on the fringe and rolled out. I just wanted to land it on the green. It's just one of those ones where you just have to really go down for it and hope it comes out the way you think it is. Luckily for me, it did, and it left me a pretty simple 4 footer up the hill.

Q. Were you nervous at all down the stretch?

RORY McILROY: To be honest, no. I didn't feel - it was nice, because I knew what I needed to do. There was no uncertainty, okay, maybe he can do this or he can do that. There was 10 under in the clubhouse, so I knew what I needed to do to win. So that focused my mind a little bit. I suppose took the uncertainty out of it.

Q. How will you celebrate tonight? I saw your dad is here and you've got Con OR here, I don't know if Caroline is here -

RORY McILROY: I'm actually on a flight up to New York as soon as I leave here to see Caroline. I'm spending a couple of days up in New York. Might be a late one tonight.

Q. How will you be going into the Masters thinking about last year, how will you be going into the Masters approaching the tournament?

RORY McILROY: To be honest I'm approaching it similar. I'm taking three weeks off before the Masters to prepare. I'll go up to Augusta the week before and play a couple of practice rounds, and basically if I can do the exact same thing this year as I did last year for 63 holes, I'll be doing okay. So hopefully I can do that again, and if I could get myself in that position, maybe finish it off a little better like I did today.

Q. I'm sure a lot of you younger players that are newer to the scene have wondered what it would be like to face Tiger when he was at his best and try to beat him; do you feel like we are close to that and can you envision showdowns with him possibly more than once?

RORY McILROY: I think anyone who shoots 62 out there today, you've got to play some phenomenal golf. He obviously did that. Look, I played three rounds with him in Abu Dhabi, and I felt like he was playing very well. Yeah, I think it's great for golf. It creates a lot of interest, and I'd love to be able to go down the stretch like that with him there a lot more.

Q. At the beginning of the day, do you think that guys were nine shots back would be someone that might give you pressure or cause some concern for you?

RORY McILROY: No. Especially going out if I thought, okay, I go out today and shoot 69, I didn't think someone from nine shots back would challenge. As I said, the conditions out there were very tough, and to see a 62 and a 63 on the board is very impressive.

Q. Just to follow up, when you get into a situation like this again, will you remember this?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, of course. I think from all these experiences of going down the stretch, you do remember. And obviously you try to forget the bad experiences and remember the good ones. You know, I can take a lot from today; the way I managed myself around the golf course, the par saves I needed to make early, I was able to do that. So there's a lot today that I can take with me, and yeah, again, it gives me a little bit of confidence knowing if I get myself in that position again, that I'm able to finish the job off.

Q. Would it have seemed surreal to you, back in amateur days, to be sitting here today as world No. 1? And where does today's win, where would you compare it to Dubai, Quail Hollow, U.S. Open -

RORY McILROY: You know, every win is very special. It depends what it means to you. I felt like the win at the end of last year at Hong Kong meant a lot to me, just because I had come close there before and it's a place that I love. But this one, with what was - with what could happen after today, with being able to go to the top of the World Rankings, it meant a lot to go out there and produce the golf that I needed to do to get the job done. It was always a dream of mine to become the world No. 1 and the best player in the world or whatever you want to call it.

But I didn't know that I would be able to get here this quickly. I mean, it's still - I feel this is my fifth full year on Tour I think. So, yeah, it's not like it's just been right away. It's taken a little bit of time, but you know, it's fantastic to be here at the minute and hopefully I can hold onto it for a little longer.

Q. Going in, did you think consistent, safe golf would do the job, and did your mind set have to change?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I thought anything in the 60s today would probably get the job done, and you know, it ended up being like that. I didn't expect people to go out and shoot 62s and 63s, but I thought if I could just play par golf, then that would be good enough.

Q. Speaking from experience, is it harder to win a major, or get to No. 1 in the world?

RORY McILROY: There's been a few guys at No. 1 without a major, so probably be harder to win a major.

Q. How long do you think you can stay here? Not here, but - (laughter).

RORY McILROY: 15 minutes. (Laughter). I don't know, I mean, it depends on how I play. I mean, hopefully I can stay here but it depends on how others play. It really is you don't I'd like to stay there for a while. I'm not sure how far above Luke I go now or what the point difference is, but as long as I keep playing good golf and have chances to win tournaments, then hopefully I'll stay up there.

Q. Do you think it makes it look like a tougher task for those behind you, whether it's Luke or Lee or Martin or whoever, because of the fact that you're 22; because of the fact that you've already won a major?

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. I mean, I think you'd have to ask them. It's not something I've really thought about. It's not - I just wanted, coming into the last couple of weeks, I knew I had a chance to get to No. 1 in the world. I could have done it last week and didn't. But that's the beauty about sport and about golf, you always have the next week to make up for it. It was nice to get the job done this week. You know, I just want to go out there and play, and I want to try and win tournaments, and if I can do that, then if guys think it will be tougher to get me off that top spot - but I feel the way I'm playing at the minute, the level of consistency, hopefully I'm going to be able to stay there for a while.

Q. You said earlier in the week that when you see Tiger's name on the leaderboard, it still has an effect. At the 8th hole, I think it was the first time you saw a leaderboard, you looked at it and Tiger was right there. What were you thinking?

RORY McILROY: To be honest I don't know. I made birdie on the 8th hole. So might have been a good thing. But no - I don't know. It's different, I mean, it's different. Having him playing with me, it's completely different, because you're watching him and you can see what he's doing. But I couldn't really think about it too much. I just had to concentrate on what I was doing. The only time I really thought about it was when I heard that roar on 18. I knew that putt on 13 was going to be very important.

Q. You've been incredibly consistent these last six months or so. When you're playing this well, do you feel like you're tough to beat; that no one can beat you?

RORY McILROY: I always felt like when I played my best, I would be hard to beat; Congressional or Quail Hollow or whatever when I play my best, I usually can get quite a lead. But I feel at the minute, you know, even if I don't play my best golf, I can still challenge, which gives me a lot of confidence, also. So yeah, when I'm firing on all cylinders, I feel like I'm hard to beat, but even playing I still feel like I can play better than what I did this week and still be able to win is very nice.

Q. I know you're a fan of the game and you've enjoyed watching it; you now have Phil who played very well at Pebble, you have Tiger who shot 62 today, you have yourself who just hit No. 1 in the world going into the Masters -

RORY McILROY: Exciting times.

Q. What do you think about that, and do you relish that clash of generations?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think it's fantastic for the game. The more that we can create interest in the game and get more people watching, it can only be good. You know, seeing Phil do what he did at Pebble; Tiger playing the way he did today; hopefully I'm in there somewhere, getting to No. 1; it's great for the game and I think everyone is excited for Augusta to roll around. I definitely know I am. Looking forward to getting back there and giving it another shot.

Q. Sorry to end on such a dull note, but can you just tell me what club you hit on 8?

RORY McILROY: (Laughing) 9 iron.

Q. And also on 13?

RORY McILROY: Lob wedge.

Q. And I'm assuming a 60-degree on 14?

RORY McILROY: Yes.

Q. Did you ever have any doubts that that would happen; that you would get to the point where you get to play against those two guys at their best or close to it?

RORY McILROY: No, again, it's something I haven't really thought about. You know, I always had putts on the putting green when I was ten years old to beat Tiger Woods or to beat Phil Mickelson. But hopefully it would be great to turn that into reality at some point. But yeah, I mean, they are the best two golfers of this generation, and obviously Tiger's the best by a long way. I mean, it's just it's quite an honor just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two guys. Phil has won 40 tournaments and four majors, and Tiger has won 14 and 70 Tour events, and here is me sitting with my third PGA Tour event, so it's a little different. Hopefully one day I'll be able to get to the stature of those two guys.

MODERATOR: Rory, congratulations.

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


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