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McIlroy Seeking U-Turn at Honda Classic


After signing a lucrative contract with Nike earlier this year - one estimated to be $250 million over 10 years - Rory McIlroy has struggled to master his new equipment.

In the only two events he's played so far in 2013, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman missed the cut in the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship and, last week as the overall top seed, was unceremoniously ousted in the first round of the WGC-World Match Play Championship by 64th-seeded Shane Lowry.

This week McIlroy returns to a course and a tournament where he's enjoyed success and where he hopes to see a turnaround to this young season. His win in last year's Honda Classic propelled him to the No. 1 ranking, a lofty position he's maintained ever since.

The $6 million PGA Tour stop begins Thursday on the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. McIroy is paired in the first round with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson. The trio tee off at 12:25 p.m.

On Wednesday, McIroy met with reporters and talked about his year. In addition to returning to a place where he's had past success, he needs to be patient with his Nike clubs as there's still a long road ahead.

"I felt like when I turned up Abu Dhabi, I was pretty much ready, but you never really know until you play competitive rounds," he told reporters. "You know, that shored up a few things in my swing, and in the equipment and I went and rectified that.

"As I said, last week I felt like I drove the ball very well, which was a huge positive, because that was sort of the glaring weak innocence my game in Abu Dhabi."

Here's what else the young Ulsterman told the media during his Q&A on the eve of the Honda Classic.

MODERATOR: We would like to welcome Rory McIlroy defending champion of the Honda Classic. I'll just turn it over to you for a few comments on being back here in the Palm Beach Gardens area and kind of the week you're hoping for this week.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, obviously looking forward to it. It's always nice to come back and defend a title. This is the first tournament I won last year and it's a tournament that first got me to No. 1 in the world. So obviously nice memories and yeah, you know, it's good to be back. It's a golf course I've always enjoyed playing. It's usually quite a tough test. There was a lot of rain last night, so the course is pretty soft out there but it looks like it should be a good week.

MODERATOR: And coming into this week, just a couple comments on how you're feeling about your game.

RORY McILROY: It's okay. I obviously was disappoint the last week not to get further in the Match Play. I saw some positives afterwards. I drove the ball a lot better. I missed too many iron shots and didn't take advantage of the driving and I worked a little on that over the last few days and it's feeling better, so we'll see how it goes this week.

Q. Jack Nicklaus is the only player to successfully defend at this tournament. It seems like it's something in general that's hard to do. Why do you think that is, as someone who has defended a couple of crowns.

RORY McILROY: I'm not too sure. I guess this week always depends on the conditions. It can get quite windy here and the course can play firm about it can get tricky. Doesn't look like it's going to be that way this week with the rain that's fallen and maybe a bit more that's forecast. But I don't know, it's a golf course, as I said I've always enjoyed playing. I played well here last year and the first year I played, I did okay, as well, so I'm not sure, hopefully I'm the first, or second one, first one since Jack to do it this week.

Q. I know sometimes people make comments about when someone changes equipment from one company to another. When you don't have early success, some people will question the move in changing equipment. Do you see that as being a factor for you so far, or are you adjusting to it?

RORY McILROY: It's fine, I knew coming into it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew it there was going to be comments if it didn't happen for me right way. I'm only two tournaments into the season. I've still got more than 20 to go or 20 to go. So it's not like I'm in any rush; it's not like I'm pushing for answers or I'm looking for answers. Everything's there. It's just a matter of putting it all together.

Q. So are we making too much of it then?

RORY McILROY: Of course. Like you'll always do with everything (laughter).

Q. I'm going to stick with that theme. Just talk a little about the adjustment to the equipment; one, how much time did you actually have spend making the adjustment? And secondly in terms of these early season struggles or whatever you want to call them, is it more some swing issues or is it still adjusting to the equipment, a combination of both?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean in, regards to your first question, I mean, it's still - I guess it's still an adjustment period. It's going to be a gradual thing. There's obviously a bit of an overlap there and you have to just try and get your way into it as best you can. But you know, as I said the last few weeks, it's more about how I'm swinging the club. That's the real concern - not concern for me, it's not a concern, but I would like to get back to where I was say the middle of last year. Because if you put my swing now up the way I was swinging it last year, it's chalk and cheese. So that's the real thing that I'm working on.

Q. Why do you think that's happened, the fall off in the swing?

RORY McILROY: You just get into bad habits. You get into bad habits. I didn't take - I took two weeks off after Dubai at the end of the season and got back right into practice. I guess once you get into a bad habit, it's such a - for the first, you know, few weeks, it's such a strange feeling trying to get out of it, and nearly exaggerating the feeling that you need. It's still something that I'm trying to work on.

Q. And then just real quick, how much time did you spends going through the testing process and so forth end of last year?

RORY McILROY: A lot. As I said, I usually take more weeks off, after Dubai, maybe take four or five, six weeks off after Christmas, but I started hitting balls again at the start of December. You know, I was hitting balls all the way through, and was still trying to tweak a few things here and there and get the right settings for driver or get the right ball. So there was - it took a little bit of time. But I felt like when I turned up Abu Dhabi, I was pretty much ready, but you never really know until you play competitive rounds. You know, that shored up a few things in my swing, and in the equipment and I went and rectified that. As I said, last week I felt like I drove the ball very well, which was a huge positive, because that was sort of the glaring weak innocence my game in Abu Dhabi.

Q. Does it take longer to adjust to the ball or the clubs?

RORY McILROY: The ball was the easiest thing. That was the thing that - I guess it sort of surprised me, as well. I thought it would take a little bit more time but the ball was great. And you know, the biggest thing for me was just finding a driver that suited me and I feel like I've got one now that really works. I think the more you play with it, the more confidence you have in it. I just need rounds. I just need tournament rounds to get that confidence in it.

Q. What do you think was the key to your success here last year?

RORY McILROY: I think my short game. My short game won me this tournament last year. I made a few crucial up and downs coming down the stretch, and sort of did that the whole way throughout the week. I was very solid. When I did miss a green, I was saving par most of the time, and that's what you need to do around here. Usually the scoring isn't that low. I think I won last year with 12 under par. So if you can limit the mistakes around here, you're going to do well.

Q. I guess you played with Tiger on Sunday at the Medalist; just wondering, first, how that came about? Was it just friendly?

RORY McILROY: We thought we would play our own match play final (laughter) except it was over 36.

Q. It was 36. Did you guys have a match?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, we had two matches. He beat me the first time and I beat him in the second, so we're even. But yeah, it was good. It's the first time I've actually been up at the Medalist. It's nice. We played - we teed off at about 8:00 and I was home by 1:30. So we played quick. He putts with pin in. He doesn't, I mean, it's just - it's speed golf. It was good. It was really enjoyable. It was really enjoyable.

Q. It was just the two of you?

RORY McILROY: No, Ahmad Rashad played with us, too.

Q. I think anybody who plays golf knows kind of what - we all have a bad habit of some sort. I'm wondering if you can just enumerate exactly what your bad habit is and then what is the result as far as shots?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, basically the club is going a little too far on the outside on the way back and coming into the ball it's a little bit too far on the inside so it's getting underneath the plane. So the club's pointing right in the delivery position and it's either starting there and staying there, which is what happened last week; or I'll try and save it with my hands and I'll turn it over too much. That's the big thing. It's just about trying to get it more on line on the way back and lift it. Basically the club gets trapped behind me and I get stuck, and from there, it's difficult. Your timing needs to be perfect to be able to save it, and when it's not, you're just slightly off.

Q. How do you feel about the anchoring issue, and what do you think is going to be the final result?

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. Obviously I saw what Tim Finchem had to say at the end of last week, and you know, it seems like the European Tour is going to go a different way, so it's - I read a thing that Monty said this divide isn't good for golf, and I don't think it is. I think we all need to be on one side or the other. You know, it's up to the governing bodies at the end of the day to decide. I sort of think it was a bit of a knee jerk reaction to how much success people were having with it. I don't think it's - I'm all for people - I'm all for people enjoying the game and trying to make the game as easy as possible and bringing people to the game, and if that means that they should allow belly putters or anchor putters to make it easier for the general public, then you know, that's a good thing. But then they talk about bifurcation and whether you should have one set of rules for us and one set of rules for the amateurs; it's just a bit of a mess. It's just opened a can of worms with it.

Q. What is your commute in miles from door to door this week? And you travel so much, what is it like to actually be home for a week and competing?

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. It probably took me about 10 or 12 minutes this morning. I'm not sure how many miles it is. It's nice. It's nice to go back to a place that's familiar and just chill and turn on the TV and just I guess get away and get into your own little space for a while. Most tournament weeks, you go back to the hotel and you see the hundred other guys that are staying there. So it's nice to sort of get back and do your own thing.

Q. Would you mind discussing The Bear Trap as a three hole project to get through for the week?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was actually pretty benign this morning when I played it, so that was nice. It's tough. Usually depending on which way the wind blows, I think usually it's off the right. So you've got 15 and 17 are the obvious tough holes of that stretch. 16, if you get your drive away is okay. But obviously missing it right isn't very good, and then missing it in that left bunker on both 15 and 17, isn't a good place to miss it, either. So you have to be pretty precise and you get through that stretch in even par for the week, you've done very well.

Q. Just a follow up on the anchored putting. It sounds like you have mixed feelings, but if it were up to you, would you say that the PGA Tour should go along with the USGA to keep uniform rules, or?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I would we've trusted this game of golf; we've put it in the hands of the R&A and the USGA for I don't know how many years, and we've always abided by the rules that they have set. I don't think this should be any different. I don't think that - you know, if they think that it's for the good of the game; I think golf's pretty good at the minute and it's in good hands. So I mean, as I said, it's just a bit of a - you're going to have a few guys that say they don't want it and there's going to be guys that have used it their whole lives that say that they can't play without it.

But if it were up to me, I would just like - whatever decision the USGA comes to, because obviously they had this, whatever period, 90 day period, whatever it was; so maybe the pressure that the PGA Tour has put on them, they might change their minds and rethink about it. And if they do that, then that's totally fine with me.

Q. You have forged a good relationship with Jack Nicklaus since moving here, and even before that, you've had some great chats with him over lunch. How important has he been knowing that he's in some people's opinion the greatest golfer of all time. What has he helped you with in your conversations with him moving forward in your career?

RORY McILROY: Not much, I mean, it not like I would ever go to Jack for we bump into each other at The Bear's Club quite a lot and I just pick up little nuggets here and there. For such a, what is he, 72 now? He's so sharp. It's great to just chat with him. He's got an unbelievable memory. He can hit what club he hit in the 1964 U.S. Open at the seventh hole, wherever he was; I can't remember what I hit last week (laughter). You know, he's great, and I've picked up a few little bits and pieces from him. It's great just to know him and spend time with him and just have these little talks with him.

Q. And a follow up, could you talk about the new Six Bags project you have here?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, this is the third week of it. This week it's the Child Protection for Palm Beach. Every week, just trying to help a local children's charity in some way. We came up with the Six Bags initiative and I thought it was a really cool idea. It seems to be very well received. It's just great to be able to do something in the community that you're playing in that given week, and people are so appreciative of it. It's not like it's a very hard thing for me to do. I can just put the name on the bag and help them raise awareness for what they do for these great causes, but also raise money, which is what they really need to try and help these kids.

Q. I just want to ask you about your coach. I realize you go way back with him. First, quickly, have you ever had anybody else but Michael? And also, could you just talk about what it is about him that's been so good for you, maybe the way, what his approach is?

RORY McILROY: No, I've never had anyone - my dad introduced me to the game and coached me for the first few years of my life, but he sort of let Michael take over when I was seven or eight years old. And you know, he's just - he keeps things very simple. I don't like to get too technical. We always talk about feelings and what feeling did you have when you were playing well and what feeling did you have when you won here and what feeling did you have when you felt like you were hitting this type of shot. Obviously we go on the video every day, and especially when you're trying to get out of a bad habit, but it's just about trying to remember. And he can tell me, he goes, remember a couple years ago when you played so well at this tournament, you said that you were feeling this.

And I'm like, yeah, that's actually a good point. Then we can always go back. Because that's the way to if I feel like I was swinging it - I felt like the best I ever swung it was at Congressional in 2011, and he's like, well, what were you feeling there? Well, just straight arm left, back, turn through, it was pretty simple. And he's like well let's try this, let's try that.

It's just nice to have a coach that's been with you the whole way through because they know your bad habits. They know everything about your swing and it's just nice to have that long relationship and not be having to try new things all the time and new theories and new philosophies. It's great to have Michael around and it's great to have him around more, because sometimes I need the work and it's easier just to have him here to explain things rather than e mail videos back and forth and try and explain things over the phone.

MODERATOR: Okay, well, Rory, we appreciate your time and best of luck this week.

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