Featured Golf News
McIlroy Says He's All Set to Defend PGA Title
After hosting Champion's Dinner on Tuesday night, Rory McIlroy is now prepared to go for a second straight title in the PGA Championship. The fourth and final major of the year tees off Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
McIlroy's menu had a decided Irish bent: the past PGA champions were served goat cheese and a beet-root salad; "Irish" beef tenderloin and vegetables; and Oak Hill's traditional sticky-toffee pudding. "It was nice," he told reporters Wednesday. "Everyone definitely enjoyed the last two courses; I don't know how the appetizer went down."
Last year at Kiawah Island McIlroy destroyed the field on what was considered a very difficult test of golf. The Ulsterman won his second major title (joining his victory in the 2011 U.S. Open) by carding rounds of 67, 75, 67 and 66 on the Pete Dye-designed layout, finishing at 13-under 275, eight strokes ahead of England's David Lynn.
With a three-shot cushion enter Sunday, McIlroy carded a scintillating bogey-free 66 en route to forging a margin of victory that set an all-time mark for the PGA Championship.
Thanks to his four wins in 2012, with his last coming in September's BMW Championship which led to him being named the PGA Tour's Player of the Year and winning the European Tour's Race to Dubai and Golfer of the Year, he entered the season ranked No. 1 in the world.
But this year hasn't been so great for the 24-year-old. After making a much-ballyhooed and lucrative switch to Nike equipment and undergoing some swing changes early in the season, he's had difficulties returning to the winner's circle. In 12 starts he's had four top-10 finishes, but has been erratic during the course of 72-hole events.
Last week he finished tied for 27th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, 17 strokes behind winner Tiger Woods, who supplanted McIlroy earlier this year as the top-ranked player in golf.
Yet McIlroy believes that his game is in a good place now and is looking to put on a good performance and possibly be handed another Wanamaker Trophy this Sunday evening at Oak Hill. "For me this week, I'm feeling good. I had a really good nine holes of golf this morning," he told reporters.
"Played really, really well. Played the back nine. I'm feeling good. Feeling good. I've been watching a few videos of last year at Kiawah and watching some videos of some of my best weeks that I've played and it sort of lifted me a little bit and I took some good things away from that. I'm excited about the week, I really am. I'm looking forward to that first tee tomorrow afternoon."
He'll start play at 1:25 p.m. (EDT) with playing partners and former PGA champions, Martin Kaymer (2010) and Vijay Singh (1998 and 2004). Here's what McIlroy had to tell the media during his sit-down session on the eve of the 95th PGA Championship.
MODERATOR: Defending PGA champion Rory McIlroy joining us at the 95th PGA Championship. Rory set the PGA Championship record for largest margin of victory last year at Kiawah Island when he won by eight strokes for his second major title. Rory, welcome. What's it been like to be the defending champion? And I also understand you had a special night last night with the Champion's Dinner. Maybe talk a little about that, please.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's been great. It's been great to come back to this tournament as the defending champion. Obviously very proud and very honored to be back here. And it's great, because it brings back the memories from Kiawah last year a little bit. Sort of reminds me what great golf that I did play that week. As you said, yeah, we had a great night last night, the Past Champion's dinner, getting to meet a lot of guys that have won the Wanamaker Trophy. I got to be the host for the evening, got to serve them some of my favorite food. Yeah, it was just a great night. It was really entertaining. I got to spend time with some great people, and it's a nice little perk about being a PGA champion.
MODERATOR: And just some thoughts, you've played the golf course a few times now, and what you've seen and what you expect starting tomorrow.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I came here at the start of June for the Media Day, and the golf course has really changed since then. I love how they have set the golf course up with the graduated rough. I think it's a great idea. You're not penalized too much, if you hit a shot just off line. Small, firm greens; obviously very penal rough around the greens, as well. I think they have set the golf course up fantastically well. It's not an overly long golf course, but you have to be really precise. You've got to hit fairways to give yourself chances going into the greens. Really well set up golf course and really looking forward to it.
Q. Just a follow up about the course, talk about what the biggest challenge you think it presents, and also do you think it fits your game?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think it's - I love PGA Championship golf courses because they set the golf course up so well. They are not looking to protect par. They are not bothered about people making birdies. So there's going to be opportunities to make birdies out there, but it's obviously a very stern test of golf. You need to do everything well. You've got to drive the ball well. You've got small, small greens, small targets to hit into. They are firm, as well, so you've got to control every single aspect of your game. You can't fake it around this golf course. You have to really hit the shots. And when you do miss a few, you've got to just get it back into play, or if you miss a green, sometimes you've just got to take your bogey and walk away. But it's going to be a really, really good test of golf.
Q. Can you just tell us, what was on the menu last night, and what do you think's on the menu for you this week? What do you think your chances are?
RORY McILROY: Menu last night was a goat's cheese and beet root salad for a starter and Irish tenderloin for the main course and then sticky toffee pudding for dessert. So it was good. It was nice. Everyone definitely enjoyed the last two courses; I don't know how the appetizer went down. For me this week, I'm feeling good. I had a really good nine holes of golf this morning. Played really, really well. Played the back nine. I'm feeling good. Feeling good. I've been watching a few videos of last year at Kiawah and watching some videos of some of my best weeks that I've played and it sort of lifted me a little bit and I took some good things away from that. I'm excited about the week, I really am. I'm looking forward to that first tee tomorrow afternoon.
Q. Tiger and Steve played together Monday and I know Tiger said yesterday there's some tricky spots on the greens in terms of trying to read them. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you agree that reading greens are going to be essential out there, and there are some subtle spots that you might have as a challenge?
RORY McILROY: I think when you come to a golf course that that's old, there's always going to be little subtle slopes on the greens that you might not find in more modern golf courses. Yeah, there's going to be spots where they put pins where it's going to be tough to read greens. But for the majority of the greens, they all slope from back to front, so you have a general idea of what way the putt is going to go. Obviously you get some pin positions that are on top of little hills or tucked behind bunkers or whatever it's going to be, and then it makes reading greens tricky. Reading greens is just part of what we have to do, and it's important every week. I wouldn't place any more importance on it this week just because of - yeah, it's always going to be important. There's two things important about putting, line and speed, and you have to get both of them right most of the time.
Q. You've said the last few weeks obviously things have not gone well really all year, but recently, I even saw a quote, you called your golf brain dead and thoughtless golf. Have you been perplexed, I guess, is the question, as to what has gone wrong with the overall game? Everything seems to be difficult right now. Have you come to a conclusion on what exactly has held you back?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, I just haven't been swinging it the best this year. I got into a couple bad habits with my golf swing, and it's just taken my a little bit longer to get out of them. Obviously when you're fighting that so much, it's hard to play the golf that I want to play, which is fluid, which is free flowing, I guess. That's the way I play my best. Trying to work on my swing so much this year has not allowed me to do that, just because I've been trying to get the club in the right position to enable me to get the club in the right positions that I know I can play. There's been that, and I guess just every time you play and you don't play well, it sort of chips away at your confidence a little bit, and it's just about building that back up. But I'm sitting here as confident as I have been all year, so I'm looking forward to getting going this week.
Q. You mentioned looking at the videos of your success. When you look at them, are you looking for technical things, or just good mojo or a combination?
RORY McILROY: A combination. I think technical things, for sure; you look at the way you're swinging the club. But also, it's more than that; it's body language, it's how you carry yourself, it's all that sort of stuff, your little mannerisms. I guess it's just trying to just remember those feelings and remember how I felt that week and trying to carry some of that into this week and just get those good, positive thoughts going.
Q. This is kind of twofold, but what do you see? What do you see in those videos?
RORY McILROY: As I said just previously, more free flowing, more I guess swinging without care in a way. Obviously you have to care about where the ball is going, but swinging it like you're giving it your all and ripping through the ball. Even walking between shots, and that's something I started to do last week again, which is really - I think everyone sees when I walk and I'm playing well, I have that little bounce in my step, so just trying to get that going again and trying to get that positive energy back.
Q. Secondly, outside of one obvious example, have you ever had an occasion this year where you did not want to be on the golf course, and if that's the case, is that more disconcerting than anything with your swing or equipment or anything else?
RORY McILROY: No, not really. Practice round yesterday was so slow, so I didn't really want to be on the golf course (laughing) then. But apart from that, obviously I know what you're referring to, but no. Yeah, I want to play. I've added a few events to my schedule towards the end of the year. So I want to play, I want to play a lot and I want to get into a good run of events. I want to spend most of my time on the golf course from now until the end of the year.
Q. As someone who has won a lot at a young age, how impressive is it to you that Tiger was won 79 and do you think someone could eventually win 100?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, Tiger Woods could potentially win a hundred. He's close. Very impressive the way he played last week, especially the last two rounds. He just needed to keep the mistakes off his card over the weekend and it was pretty much a done deal. But the level of consistency that he's had throughout his career, even with a couple of swing changes, having a couple of periods where he didn't play much; to win the amount he has, and to win tournaments, I guess, with three completely different golf swings, as well, it's incredible. It's very inspirational in a way, as well. You know, people were writing him off at this time a couple of years ago, whatever he was, he was outside the Top 50 in the world. Now he's back to where he was a few years ago. So it's great to see. I think it's good for the game of golf. You know, I'd love to be able to get my game back to where I know it can be and be able to challenge him.
Q. You've mentioned trying to have more of a bounce in your step and trying to play with a more positive attitude; can you have that positive attitude when the game isn't there? How difficult is it to have the bounce in your step when you're not playing as well?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure, I think the two go hand in hand. It's much easier to have that positive attitude and that bounce in your step when you're playing well and making birdies and the game comes a little easier to you. But whenever you're struggling, of course it's going to be more difficult. That's what you need to do; you just need to keep those positive thoughts. You need to have that right attitude to get your way through it. There's no point in slumping your shoulders and getting down on yourself. Just try to be really resilient and carry yourself as if you were playing well, I guess.
Q. Did you think before you got to No. 1 that you were prepared for the off course scrutiny that comes with being No. 1? Can anyone be prepared for that kind of scrutiny, and what have you learned during this whole process that will help you when you get back to that?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I don't think you can really prepare for it at all. I don't think it was really getting to No. 1. That wasn't really - of course, you have success, and I win my second major this time last year and I have a great end of the season. I think it's managing expectations, managing your own. You can't really manage anyone else's. You just have to manage your own expectations. Yeah, I guess I've learnt to maybe not listen as much or not read as much or not look as much. Just sort of wrap yourself in your own little world or your own little bubble. But yeah, it's not - it's something that's just part of - I guess I had to sort of deal with it after the Masters in 2011 whenever people were saying, you can't come back from this, what's he going to do, he's blown his best chance to win a major. Come back two months later and was able to win. Yeah, I've dealt with him before and it's just something that's part of the job.
Q. Related to that, so much has happened to you in the last 12 months since Kiawah; looking back a year older, a year wiser, what would you do differently?
RORY McILROY: What would I do differently? I would have definitely played more at the start of this year. That's one thing I regret; I didn't play enough at the start of the year. I played Abu Dhabi and took like four weeks off. I didn't play and I needed to get into a run of events, and that's something I should have done differently. But apart from that, that's all I really - about this year, that's all I would have done differently is just play a little bit more.
Q. A lot of golfers have come in here talking about the fans, Oak Hill, the Rochester area, as liking to play here. Do you think that the players and PGA would benefit from having more events here at Oak Hill? Doesn't have to be necessarily a major, just tournaments and things like that at Oak Hill; would that benefit the PGA and the players?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, you know, talking about the fans, it's incredible to see how many people are out there, Monday, Tuesday and today. They really seem to love their golf here, and Oak Hill is such an historical and traditional venue that so many great championships and so many great players have played here. And it's obviously a great golf course. I don't know whether it's a good thing to play more here. It's probably better just to keep it special; you know, play it once every few years and keep it really special and the big tournaments come here, whether it's the PGA or U.S. Open or whatever it is. So, yeah, I don't think the players or anyone would benefit from playing more here. I think if they kept it exclusive and only play once every number of years, I think that's a better way to go.
Q. Given your performance here in this event last year, and most of last season, could you have ever imagined sort of being in the position you're in now, having struggled the way you have? And secondly, have you taken anything out of this year?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I was sort of in this position coming into this tournament last year in a way. I was coming off a fifth place in Akron, but the run of events before that wasn't so good. So obviously, yeah, you never hope to struggle or not to play well, but it's going to happen. It's inevitable. I've taken a few things away from this year, and you know, there's been - I think there's been times where I've thought about my swing a little bit too much, and that's prevented me from playing the way I want to play, which is that care free, free flowing game that I usually have, and just not get too down on myself. That's the thing, there's been times this year where I've really gotten down on myself and that's something that hasn't helped at all, and something that I'm trying to get better at.
Q. The last 20 majors, 18 different winners; what do you think that kind of says about the state of golf right now?
RORY McILROY: The depth of the game, I think with technology, golf course setup, it's very difficult for players to separate themselves from the rest of the field. The depth of the game, everyone is so much closer. You put the top 100 guys in a row on the range and watch them hit a ball, and you can't really tell the difference. There's so much depth in the game of golf right now. So, yeah, you could look at any other sporting event, and you would have certain favorites. Obviously in golf, there's a few certain favorites, also, but anyone out of this field could win this tournament, and that's not the case in some other sports. I think that's something that's quite appealing about golf.
Q. You were saying in Muirfield you were not in a good place mentally and you might go see Bob Rotella again. Can you tell us why you haven't went down that avenue?
RORY McILROY: I haven't went down that avenue, so . . .
Q. Why didn't you feel it necessary to do that?
RORY McILROY: I don't know, I guess I went through it before, and I feel like I know what to do. So, yeah, I felt like I could figure it out myself.
Q. Ian Poulter was in here a couple of hours ago, and we were asking him about you, and he said he thought that we should lay off you. Do you feel we should lay off you?
RORY McILROY: I don't know, I mean, it's - I'd definitely rather be up here talking about more positive things, but I guess that's the way it is. Should you lay off me? That's not for me to decide. That's not - I'm here and I'm answering your questions and that's all I can do. Yeah, as I said, it would be nicer just to sit up here, talk about some more positive things, but the way this year's gone, it's understandable why I'm not.
Q. It's very nice of you to say it's not for you to decide, but you're the only person who can decide whether you think we should lay off you?
RORY McILROY: You're the only people who can decide whether you lay off me or not, so it's not my decision. (Laughter).
Q. You can say whether you think we should.
RORY McILROY: No, I think you should do what you want. Ask me the questions that you want to ask (shrugging shoulders).
Q. Linked to that, but you touched on it, a lot of people in a lot of places have had a lot to say in the last eight months about where you've gone wrong and why you've gone wrong; does that motivate you in a way? Can that help you in that regard?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I love proving people wrong. I loved sitting up here last year on the Sunday night and just being like, I proved a lot of people wrong. Maybe not necessarily in this room, but just people who had their opinions and said things and it was nice to be able to do that. Yeah, I don't need any extra motivation to go out and try and play well. I want to try and be the best golfer in the world, and I don't need any extra motivation than that.
Q. What is it about your swing, whether it's timing in the impact zone, that has made you something of a streaky player, both good and bad?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I think my speed, the speed of my body through the ball, has always been it's been one of my biggest advantages, and maybe one of my disadvantages, as well, because obviously when you have so much speed through the ball, you need to time it perfectly for it to work well all the time. But, yeah, I mean, this year has just been a case of trying to get out of a bad habit and working it too much and getting into the opposite habit. So now it's trying to sort of tease it back into where it should be. Yeah, I think that's the thing that when I'm on and I can sync my upper body and lower body, everything's great. When those two just get a little bit out of sync is when I start to struggle.
Q. Breaking par at Oak Hill has proved to be tough in the past. Can you talk about the closing stretch and what it's going to take to win on Sunday?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, it's a tough closing stretch. You've got a few birdie chances leading up to that stretch, 12, 13, 14, two short par 4s and a par 5 in the middle. I played the last four holes today, and they weren't playing as tough as they probably could be. I mean, wind on 15 was off the left and it was playing pretty short down off the left. It was only a 9 iron. 16 was into the wind. It was a drive and a wedge. 17 was downwind; I hit 9 iron in there. And 18 was downwind and I hit 9 iron in there. Depending on what way the wind is - and I hear the wind is going to get up a few days this week it can play easier or it can obviously play very, very tough. But again, it's all about hitting the fairways. I hit the fairway on 16, 17 and 18, and obviously it makes the hole a lot easier from there. But if you start to miss fairways around here, you make life very difficult for yourself.
Q. One of the things that people have pointed to over the past year or so that is a common theme and perhaps why you're struggling is people point to the equipment change; any athlete in any sport, if you ask them to change everything in what they do, the tools of the trade, it's difficult to do. I wonder if you think that the equipment change is a valid point for people to make with what's going on with you, and why or why not?
RORY McILROY: I think it was a valid point at the start of the year. I don't think it's a valid point now. I mean, it's nine months in. Of course there's going to be a transition period where you've got to get used to a few different things, but now, I mean, I don't think that should be - I don't think it's a valid argument at all. I'm really happy with everything that I've got in my bag, and I've had the best part of eight or nine months to play with it. Yeah, it could have been a valid point in maybe January, February, but I don't think it is now.
Q. Just to take you back to the dinner last night, are you sort of comfortable or a bit nervous about hosting the dinner and who perhaps did you enjoy meeting the most and any sort of advice you got.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I was pretty comfortable. I didn't have a speech or anything prepared. I just got up there and winged it, so it was nice. To see all those past champions in the room, and a lot of them turned up for the dinner, really, it was cool. I had a good friend of mine, Harry Diamond, with me, which was cool. He got to meet a few guys that he's never met before, like Tiger, and Phil sat beside us; it was very cool. I mean, you have the most recent PGA champions like myself, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer and then you have someone like Doug Ford who it was his 91st birthday yesterday so you have that spectrum of guys. It's unbelievable and it was the same when I went to the U.S. Open Past Champions dinner at Merion. You have guys like Billy Casper or Lee Trevino and myself or Webb Simpson; it's so cool to see the span, the length of time. It was very cool.
Q. Where did you get your hair cut and how much did you pay for your haircut?
RORY McILROY: The haircut was very kindly free which was nice. Didn't have to pay for it. I was getting a little hot under here, so, yeah, it's better. It's better. There's still a little bit on the top, but it's okay. Short back and sides (laughter).
MODERATOR: Defending PGA Champion, Rory McIlroy, thanks very much.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.