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Rory Rarin' to Go


Rory McIlroy had a 2011 Masters to forget. The young Northern Irishman, now 22, blew a four-shot lead entering the final round thanks to a fatal 7-over 43 on the back nine.

But the youngster rebounded nicely, blowing away an elite field in the very next major championship, the U.S. Open at Congressional, by a whopping eight strokes.

On Tuesday, McIlroy told reporters he was helped by a phone call from Greg Norman, the king of heartbreak at Augusta National. The Aussie great had four chances to don a green jacket, only to miss the opportunity each time. Particularly painful was his loss to Nick Faldo in 1996, when Norman threw away a six-shot lead in the final round.

"I think it was great coming from him because he had sort of been in the same position in 1996 - well, '96 where Faldo won, but I think '86 as well, 1987," McIlroy said, trying to get the correct years. "Sorry, I wasn't born.

"He said a couple things to me that I found very useful and put into practice, especially weeks like this where there's so much hype and there's so much buildup," McIlroy added. "I've said this before, but create this little bubble around yourself and just try and get into that and don't let any of the outside interference come into that."

McIlroy also made light of the predicament he put himself into last year on the 10th hole, when he hooked his tee shot so badly that he was in a place even the omniscient CBS cameras scrambled to cover. The resulting triple-bogey sent him on an irreversible downward spiral; McIlroy closed with an 8-over 80 to finish in a tie for 15th.

A reporter asked McIlroy Tuesday if he had any bad memories while playing the hole during a practice round last week. "Not really. I mean, I can't believe how close the cabins are. They are only 50 yards off the tee," McIlroy quipped, eliciting laughter from the media. "But no, look, it's great to be able to laugh about it now."

McIlroy still isn't sure what happened on that shot, much less last year's entire final round. "It was such a blur," he noted candidly. "It was really hard to remember. It wasn't just the tee shot. It was way before that. It was just how I approached the whole day. I went through it a million times. It's something that I learned from, and I quickly forgot about and moved on. And moved on pretty well."

He did indeed, rising up to No. 1 in the world after his two-shot victory in the 2012 Honda Classic over Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis. He's since dropped to No. 2 behind Luke Donald, but McIlroy has the length, touch and overall game to erase the taste of last year's Masters' disaster.

Here's what the Ulsterman told reporters during his Tuesday Q&A at Augusta National.

MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are pleased to have with us today a young man that was impressive in last year's Masters, Rory McIlroy. We know he left disappointed but made up for it with an exciting U.S. Open win during the summer claiming his first major championship. He returns to the Masters with a world golf ranking of No.2. Let's get your approach to playing the 2012 Masters.

RORY McILROY: Thank you. It's great to be back. Every year you get that letter in the post inviting you back to Augusta. Masters week, it's a great honor. It's just a great privilege to be able to play this great golf course and be a part of this unbelievable tournament with so much history and tradition. So every year, it's just an honor to come back, and excited about the week. I feel like I've been playing some good golf leading up to this week. I feel like I'm bringing in some pretty good form, and just excited to get started. You know, played a couple practice rounds last week, and the course is in phenomenal shape. Yeah, I mean, just as I said, excited to be here and can't wait to get going.

Q. Can you just share when you were doing your practice rounds, any sort of déjà vu moments that you did have, what feelings you did have, just being back, so many great rounds and then the bad Sunday round.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, every time you come back to this place, you just get excited. Excited to be here, even I was sitting having lunch before I went out on Wednesday, and you just look around and you look out the back of the clubhouse and you see the first tee, 9th green, 18th green, down to the second, down to the seventh; you can almost see down to 15. As I say, it's just great to be back. Obviously the first time I played the back nine last week, obviously there's memories that come back and memories that you probably don't want (chuckling). It's fine. I got that all out of the way, and, you know, just looking forward to this week and looking forward to trying to put myself in contention to try and win this thing.

Q. What do you take away from that huge disappointment on that final Sunday? I know you quickly won the U.S. Open, and congratulations for that, but what did you learn about yourself on that Sunday?

RORY McILROY: I learned a lot. I think one of the things I learnt was that as a person and as a golfer, I wasn't ready to win the Masters; wasn't ready to win a major. I really needed to think about what I needed to do to improve mentally and in different aspects of my game to get better. I felt like I did that. So the big thing for me is it was a huge learning curve, learning experience, and, you know, I took a lot from it and was able to put some of the things I learned into practice very quickly, and that's what resulted in winning the U.S. Open a couple months after.

Q. You said you wanted to confront the demons on the 10th tee. Were there any, and did you get them all?

RORY McILROY: Not really. I mean, I can't believe how close the cabins are, they are only 50 yards off the tee - (laughter). But no, you know, look, it's great to be able to laugh about it now. I played the hole, I played it a couple different ways. Took driver, took 3-wood; depends how firm it is. If it's firm, you can just hit your 3-wood down there and the slope will take it down the rest of the hill. But if it's wet, you might have to fly it all the way down to the flat. But no, I mean, I haven't changed any sort of game plan or anything from what happened last year. But as I said, I'm just really excited to be back here.

Q. You look at Woods, he wins after 30 months, and all of a sudden he's everyone's - at least on the booking lines in England, does that drive you at all? Is that really fair?

RORY McILROY: I, to be honest, couldn't care less about who the bookies make favorite. It's only on paper. Look, I think it's great for the tournament. It's great for the game of golf that Tiger is back playing well. He creates excitement that no one else in the game can. You know, a lot of people want to see him make history, and it looks like he's back on track to maybe going and doing that. I'm just looking forward to hopefully getting myself in contention and giving myself a chance, and maybe coming up against the best player of - maybe the best player ever; definitely the best player of the last 20 years.

Q. And people are now pointing at you and saying that about you. That must make you feel great. You've been around here a long time and you're only a young man. It must just be so exciting for you at this time in your life.

RORY McILROY: It is, yeah. I'm in a great place. I feel like my golf game is in great shape. As I said, I'm coming back here a much more experienced player and feel like a much better player than the player that came here last year. I'm very excited about the week.

Q. How many times did you replay that tee shot on 10, whether it was hours, days, weeks after last year, and did you try and go through it and say, how could I have done this differently?

RORY McILROY: To be honest, it was such a blur. It was really hard to remember. From the 10th through the 12th was just - oh, sorry, phone's going. (Cell phone beeping). No phones at Augusta. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: We didn't hear anything. I don't have a phone. And the question was?

RORY McILROY: So sorry. What was I saying? (Laughter.) Yeah, everything went so quickly. It was more just the whole - it wasn't just the tee shot. It was way before that. It was just how I approached the whole day. I went through it a million times. Yeah, it's something that I learned from, and I quickly forgot about and moved on and moved on pretty well.

Q. Is there any part of your game in particular that you've been working on to get ready for Augusta National?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, short game is always a huge part here. I feel like if your short game is in good shape coming in here, you can be a lot more aggressive with your iron shots. Even if you miss a green, you don't particularly worry about missing a green because you know that you can get it up and down. That's one big aspect that I've been working on.

Q. One more question about 10. How close have you come to those cabins since you hit the shot out of there?

RORY McILROY: I just had a quick glance on the way past walking down the middle of the fairway last week, and hopefully I'll do the same thing during the week this week.

Q. Just touching on a previous question about how you are being elevated now at such a young age. I know it's part of what you do, and you may not have seen a headline but there was a headline in a prestigious magazine saying that you and Tiger might be the only story in town. That may not be true, but does that touch you at all, that expectation that seems to be mounting relentlessly on you? How easy is it to put that on one side?

RORY McILROY: You have to remember, there's 80-plus players in this field. It's not just about two guys or three guys or whatever. Every guy has to just think about themselves, and, you know, try and play the golf course as best they can. That's all you can really do, in any tournament, whether it be a major or a regular Tour event. You just have to concentrate on yourself. It's nice to be getting all this praise and everything, but you have to take it with a pinch of salt. I'm nowhere near the - I definitely don't have the achievements that Tiger has or nowhere near the level of, yeah, success, that he's had over the last 15 years. But hopefully I can one day even get close to that point, you know. I'm just happy to be here and hopefully have a good chance of winning.

Q. What's your favorite par-5 and what's the most strategic par-5?

RORY McILROY: 13 is my favorite. I just love the tee shot, love the second shot into the corner. Just it's probably one of the most beautiful holes in the world. And the most strategic is probably the 8th hole, because you can get your drive away okay, but the second shot is - if you want to try and make the green, it's a very risky shot. You've got to take on the overhanging trees on the left, and if not, then you miss it right, you leave yourself a very tricky chip shot to a very sectioned green. You've got the back left section that is sort of top right, and they have leveled it off a little bit this year. Yeah, that's probably the most strategic for me.

Q. Do you step on the tee at 8 wanting to go for it every time?

RORY McILROY: It depends where the pin is. I'll always think about where the pin is before. But you have to really challenge the bunker on the right side to give yourself a chance to just have the angle to get to the green. So it's a tricky one.

Q. Many have pointed to how you handled Sunday last year as being significant in your development. Is there someone or somehow that you prepared yourself to handle failure as well as success and how you were able to handle it?

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. I mean, I think as golfers we lose more than we win. We only win a number of times, and every other time we are not lifting a trophy, it's not a failure but you don't win, so you sort of get used to maybe disappointments or - I don't know. Maybe I've just got the mindset that I handle it a little better than others and feel like at that point I had many more chances to win a major or win a Masters. Yeah, it wasn't the end of the world. Again, it's only golf. It's not like anyone died out there last Sunday.

Q. Temporarily you got up to No. 1 in the world recently, and it's gone away in the last couple of weeks while you were away, but what did that mean to you? I know it's a statistic, but did it mean anything at all to you and do you want to get back there?

RORY McILROY: It meant more to me knowing that I had to go out and win to get to No. 1; and being able to do that and to do it the way I did, as well, hanging on to the lead down the stretch with Tiger making a charge and having to get it up and down out of a couple of bunkers and a bad lie on 14. So that meant more to me, being able to hang on to that and win that way. Yeah, it would be great to get back to that point, whether it's this week or a few weeks down the road or next year, whatever. It's just nice to be able to get there. Of course it would be nice to get there again.

Q. You said you weren't ready to win the Masters last year. Presumably you think you're ready this year. I wonder if you can tell us what the difference is and if you could break it physically and psychologically. And talk about your rivals, specifically Lee Westwood.

RORY McILROY: Mentally, now I feel like if I get myself in a position again, I'll be able to approach it a lot better. I felt like I didn't approach it well at all last year. And really the way I approached it was out of character for me, and I realized that and realized that I just needed to try and be myself a little bit more. That was something that I tried to put into practice at the U.S. Open when I had to go out with the lead and try and just get the job done.

Physically, you know, I feel like last year here, I struck the ball beautifully. I think I only made three bogeys in the first three days. So that part of my game I feel has always been pretty solid. I think putting has been a big change from this time last year. I feel a lot more natural. I feel like there's a lot more feel in my stroke, and that's something I've worked on with Dave Stockton pretty hard. That's probably been the biggest change in any game since this time last year.

Rivals, look, there's a lot of people that can win this week. There's a few guys looking for their first major, like Lee; like Luke; Hunter Mahan has played really well this year. But, you know, you can't go out on the golf course thinking about other people. You just have to try and concentrate on yourself and try to get the ball around in the best score possible. That's all I can really think about. But, yeah, obviously there's a lot of great players in this field and a lot of people with great chances to win.

Q. How soon after you left here last year were you able to laugh, and what was the occasion?

RORY McILROY: Well, I laughed with JP walking off the 18th green last year. So, I mean, yeah, I sort of - I knew my chance to win the tournament was over by the 13th. I had five holes where I just sort of played and thought about it, and, you know, could almost reflect on what happened straightaway.

Q. In terms of leaving the golf course, though, and taking those days of reflection, at what point were you able to laugh at yourself or someone else laugh at you?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's a little bit different. Probably a couple weeks. I went straight to Malaysia the week after here and sort of tried to just get straight back on the horse and play. I had a couple weeks off after that at home where I sort of reflected and thought about it a lot. Yeah, probably sometime during that point when I got home when I realized that it wasn't the end of the world and that I would be back here this year and have another chance.

Q. Your dad wasn't here last year and said he wished he could have been to help you through all of the Sunday emotion, but obviously he was with you at Congressional, quite a calming influence. Wonder how his influence and the family support around you might help you this year.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think so. Dad is a very laidback type of person, very easygoing. Wouldn't get sort of stressed or uptight about anything. Even just that sort of aura that he gives off, having him around, it sort of makes everything seem a little bit more relaxed. So it's definitely nice to have him around. And whether it's just having breakfast with him or having dinner, it's just nice to have both of my parents here. Maybe at the end of the week, that may be the difference or could be a big help in helping me try to win this tournament.

Q. When you won the U.S. Open, everybody wrote that it was the start of a new era, and some people consigned Tiger Woods to history, and yet here he is again back in your face. Did you ever think it was a possibility that he disappeared, or did you expect him to reemerge at some point the way that he has?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, of course. You don't win 14 majors and 70-odd PGA Tour events for nothing, you know. But, I mean, it takes time. People are very quick to build players up and they are very quick to knock them back down. And, you know, people have very short memories. You know, he won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg, you know, and he can do a lot of things that other people can't. Obviously he went through a patch where he struggled and didn't play well, but he was trying to sort of, you know, put pieces of his game back together within your swing and everything. And then he had the injury here last year which took him out for a couple of months. It takes time. It takes time. But it looks like he's back on track now, and as I said earlier, I think it's great for the game of golf and it adds a lot of excitement.

Q. You had a moment I think last year after the loss here where you talked to your mom on the phone and eventually broke down. How important was going through that, breaking down with her on the phone to you? And secondly, how important was the victory at the U.S. Open to kind of expunge what happened here?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was the first time that I had cried in a long time about anything. And, yeah, I suppose I sort of let it all out that morning, and I definitely felt better after it. Yeah, I still - coming back and winning the U.S. Open was something that was very important to me. It sort of proved to myself more than anything else that I was able to win at the very highest level in this sport, and, you know, gave me great confidence in myself that if things did go wrong, I knew how to fix them and I knew how to go forward. If it ever happens again, I just need to rely on that resilience to sort of get straight back up and get back at it.

Q. You said a moment ago that part of the problem last year was that you didn't approach it as yourself, that you kind of stepped out of character. Just wondering, was it that you were too aggressive? Was it that you were too anxious? What was the difference? What was not being yourself at that point?

RORY McILROY: For me, it was trying to be too focused, too perfect. Yeah, just very - I don't know. For me, I feel like myself, I'm more relaxed. I sort of have a bounce in my step and sort of a heads-up looking around at other people. That day, I felt like from watching the tape back, I was very - I was always looking at the ground. I was very insular. My shoulders were a little bit like this (indicating hunched over). Sort of like I didn't want the outside world to get in instead of embracing the situation and saying, you know, I've got a four shot lead at the Masters; let's enjoy this. That was the real difference.

Q. In 2010 at the Ryder Cup we thought there was a little tension between you and Tiger. He said something and you reacted. Can you say something about your relationship now? Is it on a hello basis? Do you play practice rounds together?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I feel like I have a good relationship with Tiger. We played a practice round in Abu Dhabi earlier this year and played three rounds together there. It's pretty good. Yeah, I said a couple things back then that maybe just got a little carried away or got caught up in the moment. But I feel like the relationship I have with Tiger is a good one.

Q. Last year you had your three mates from back home with you. Who is here with you this week? Obviously sounds like your mom and dad are in town. Who else do you have?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, just my mom and dad, and then just caddie, a couple people from management group. There's a few of my dad's friends are over who have always wanted to come to the Masters, so they have tickets and are here. But apart from that, it's just a pretty small group.

Q. Last year you came with your three mates and you got chased out of the street playing football. A lot has happened to you since then, changes in personal life, management, everything. Do you come back here a little bit different, maybe a little bit more grown up or businesslike or something about the way you approach it this year than you did last year?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, definitely a lot of things have changed in the last 12 months. I definitely feel like I've come back here the same person but just with a different attitude. I think that's probably the big difference. Yeah, I mean, you still have to have fun out there. It's not all business - it sort of is all business, but you want to try and have a little bit of fun. (Smiling.) That's the big change from last year to this year. I just feel like I've got a more - yeah, I came in here last year hoping to do well and maybe to have a chance to win or whatever. But this year, I'm coming in with the attitude that I want to win; I want to put myself into contention. So, yeah, it's a little bit more of a businesslike approach, you could say.

Q. I think a lot of players would be a little nervous coming here after a three week break for fear of losing their competitive edge. Are there any risks involved, and why do you think it works for you?

RORY McILROY: I think if you look at the way I play, I usually do well the first week I come back out, whether it's the first week of the season, like after a couple weeks' practice, so I always play Abu Dhabi, the first event of the season. I've come pretty close there in the past. I haven't quite won it, but I feel like I've come out playing well. And, yeah, I just feel fresh. Feel ready to go. I feel like if you play - like, say, if this was my third week in a row, there's maybe bad putts or bad shots that sort of creep back into your mind from the week previous. For me, I just feel like it's a fresh start and you get going. I think it works well for me.

Q. I know you heard a lot of words of encouragement after last year. Was there one phone call or one letter in particular that really resonated with you?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, the one from Greg Norman that I got a couple days after. I was in Malaysia in my hotel room, and, you know, he just gave me a call and he talked to me about it. I think it was great coming from him, because he had sort of been in the same position in 1996 - well, '96, where Faldo won, but I think '86, as well - 1987 - sorry. I wasn't born. (Laughter.)

So he's had experience of that before, and I think it was great coming from him, because I'm sure he knew how I felt. And he said a couple things to me that I found very useful and sort of put into practice, especially weeks like this where there's so much hype and there's so much buildup just to try and - I've said this before, but create this little bubble around yourself and just try and get into that and sort of don't let any of the outside interference come into that. That was big for me. It was just great to get the phone call from him, because I think he knew more than anyone else how I was feeling at that point.

MODERATOR: Thank you, all. Thank you, Rory. Good luck this week.

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