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Rory Sets Sights on another Wanamaker Trophy
After he quickly tracked down and passed Sergio Garcia on Sunday en route to winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Rory McIlroy began thinking about the PGA Championship. Golf's fourth and final major of the year starts Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.
Facing a three-stroke deficit starting the final round at Firestone, McIlroy carded four birdies in the first five holes to get past Garcia and stayed there the rest of day, closing with a 4-under 66 and a 72-hole total of 265, good for a two-stroke victory over the Spaniard.
The win was McIlroy's second straight following his Open Championship victory at Royal Liverpool two weeks ago. His recent hot streak also put McIlroy into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking. The latest ranking, released Monday, saw the 25-year-old Northern Irishman supplant Adam Scott, shifting the Aussie to second with Garcia moving into third place.
Indeed, the top-five players in the world are Europeans, with Garcia followed by Sweden's Henrik Stenson and Englishman Justin Rose.
After he accepted the Bridgestone trophy and $1.53 million winner's check, McIlroy said the key to his recent surge has been his accuracy off the tee. "Whenever I drive the ball well, I always put myself in positions where I can attack flags and try and make birdies," said McIlroy, who led the field in driving distance at Firestone South, averaging 315.4 yards per drive on Thursday, 321.6 Friday, 320.1 Saturday and 313.6 Sunday.
"When I'm swinging it well with a driver, that sort of funnels through the rest of my game."
McIlroy added that he hopes his work off the tee continues at Valhalla. "I've said it all week. (Driving is) the foundation of my game; when I drive it like that, I have a pretty good chance to win most weeks, and I've shown that the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, going into Valhalla in good form and try to get three in a row."
So McIlroy heads to Kentucky as the odds-on favorite to win the PGA. He already has three Grand Slam titles; besides the 2014 Open Championship - where he beat Garcia and American Rickie Fowler by two shots - he won the U.S. Open in 2011 at Congressional and, the following year, the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. His first two majors were routs; in each he won by eight strokes.
Here's what McIlroy told reporters during his Q&A after the Bridgestone Invitational, his first World Golf Championships title.
MODERATOR: I'm sure you'll all join me in welcoming and congratulating WGC Bridgestone champion Rory McIlroy.
RORY McILROY: Thank you.
MODERATOR: And world No. 1.
RORY McILROY: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Sounds all right, doesn't it?
RORY McILROY: That sounds great. It really does.
Q. Start us off with your day today. Obviously, a fairly explosive start set you off on the right track.
RORY McILROY: That's what I wanted to do. I played the first few holes really well this week anyway. It really started last night, birdieing those final two holes after the rain delay and then coming out today and birdieing the first three. So playing that five hole stretch and 5-under par really set me up to have a great chance to win this golf tournament. I played really well from there. I birdied 5 to get to 4-under for the day. After that, I had a couple of little wobbles, a couple of loose drives, but for the most part played really solid golf and did what I needed to do.
I rode my luck a little bit on the back nine, hit a couple of tree limbs that the ball came back into the fairway. So got lucky a couple of times. And Sergio had a couple of putts to try and get close to me. But I did enough in the end and hung on. Obviously, very happy to be sitting here as the champion and No. 1 player in the world, and going into Valhalla with obviously a lot of confidence.
Q. And your first WGC title, Rory. A quick word on that.
RORY McILROY: It's sort of the only thing missing. Three majors and PGA Tour wins, European Tour wins, Ryder Cups, world No. 1 - it was just sort of - it was just the thing that was sort of missing on the CV was a World Golf Championship. It's great to finally get one here, one of my favorite venues of the year. There's still one more WGC to come up this year. Hopefully, I can add to the list later on in the season.
Q. Rory, you talked earlier in the week about the importance of sort of backing up your Open win with a good performance this week. How pleasing is it to do that?
RORY McILROY: That's the most pleasing thing about this week is not dwelling on what happened at Hoylake and just keep - I kept saying it the whole time, Keep moving forward. That's what I'll have to do after this as well. I've just got to keep moving forward. I've got plenty of time at the end of the year to celebrate all these successes. I'll have a good time tonight. I'll celebrate with my dad and Sean and J.P. and stuff, but I've got a big tournament next week and one that I desperately want to win. It's great to have a chance to try to go there to try to win three in a row, but if you'd have asked me what I'm proudest of this week, it's the mindset that I took into here of not being complacent and not just sort of coming here and enjoying myself. I wanted to come here and really contend. It's great that I was able to do that.
Q. Well done, Rory. You had lunch with Sergio. What sort of atmosphere do you have when you're going out a few moments later?
RORY McILROY: Actually, it was fine. It was good. We talked about Man United beat Real Madrid last night. So that was something nice to talk about. Even if it was preseason, I'll take it. So just talked about the football a little bit. Liverpool played AC Milan as well, and just general chat. We sat together in the rain delay yesterday as well for a couple of hours.
Sergio and I get on really well. There's a lot to talk about other than golf and other than him being a few shots ahead of me or whatever. I have a good relationship with him. It was - I don't want to say I feel bad for a victory, but Sergio's been playing really well, and I feel like he's come close, obviously, a few times. I think another win is right around the corner for him as well.
Q. Rory, when you come out trailing on a Sunday, is it a big moment when you reach the other person's score? And did it change the way this round felt that you accomplished it so quickly?
RORY McILROY: A little bit, yeah. I think when you're going out and you're trailing by a fet - I was trailing by three - you want to tie them as quickly as possible. So try to get next to them as soon as you can. Yeah, I mean, 2 and 3 were big. Sergio didn't make birdie on 3, and then I birdied 3 and he bogeyed, and all of a sudden, from being three back, I'm one ahead.
So it's a big moment in the round. I wanted to just sort of keep my foot on the pedal a little bit and try and keep going. Had a good chance on 4 for birdie, didn't quite make it, but then made a good one on 5. The start was obviously very important. Yeah, I think the mindset going out is just try to catch them as quickly as possible and then go from there.
Q. Since then, any discouragement from him after that early stretch?
RORY McILROY: No, he stayed pretty patient, I thought, had some good shots. It just didn't seem like the putter was working as well for him today as it did the previous days.
Q. Two things, Rory. The punch on 1, was that - did you make that look easier than it really was?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I actually got a little lucky. I clipped a couple of leaves. If it was maybe a couple of inches higher, it might have caught a little branch and not got as far as it did. I actually thought it was - if you wanted to go into that first green, out of the rough wasn't a bad play because you didn't have to worry about the spin or it coming back off the green. I could be really aggressive with it because obviously it was so soft. It was an 8 iron from 75 yards, but it only pitched a couple yards short of the green. The first hop sort of deadened it, and it rolled up there. Yeah, I mean, it was - those shots, there's a bit of skill involved, but obviously, there's a little bit of luck as well.
Q. Also, can you at all take these two weeks and compare it with how you were playing, say, toward the end of '12?
RORY McILROY: No, this is better. This is better. I'm more in control of my ball and my ball flight. Mentally, I'm really sharp.
Q. Is this your best?
RORY McILROY: It's close. I mean, it's the most comfortable I've ever felt trying to close out a golf tournament out there today. I felt normal. I felt like it was the first round or the second round. It didn't feel like a fourth round. It just felt - I just kept and I think that's - when I say mentally it's the best I've ever been, I didn't get ahead of myself. I didn't start to think about score. I didn't think about where I was in the tournament. I just kept playing my shot after shot after shot. Yeah, so it's good.
Q. Rory, after you won at Kiawah Island, I may get the words wrong, but you said that your goal is to always remain humble and honest. That's happened on and off the course since then. Are you finding those goals to be a little harder to maintain?
RORY McILROY: I think you've always got to keep your humbleness, and of course, honesty as well. No, it shouldn't be a problem to try and keep those two things. I'm lucky to be able to play this game, and it's been great to me. I want to make the most of it, of course. I practice very hard to get to where I'm at. But, yeah, whenever I'm talking to you guys, I want to try to be as open and as honest as possible and try and answer questions thoughtfully and articulately and just try and give you guys some good material as well. Yeah, I feel like I'm the same person as I was at Kiawah a couple of years ago.
Q. How much confidence do you derive from your driver when you're hitting it as well as you are right now? Secondly, how much does that sort of filter into the rest of the game in terms of being able to do what you did?
RORY McILROY: Well, the way I approach it is the longer the club, the harder it is to hit. So if you're hitting arguably the hardest club in your bag to hit that well, then the other stuff should sort of fall in line or fall into place. I feel like that's what's sort of happened. Whenever I drive the ball well, I always put myself in positions where I can attack flags and try and make birdies, but when I'm swinging it well with a driver, that sort of funnels through the rest of my game. If I'm swinging well with a driver, more than likely, I'm swinging well with everything else. Obviously, I get a lot of confidence with that.
Q. At what point did your confidence click in with the driver and you really kind of got it locked in?
RORY McILROY: I've been driving the ball great all year. I really have. But I played - I hit a few drivers that I wasn't planning to the Sunday of the Scottish Open at Aberdeen. I hit some drivers off tees that I didn't plan to and hit them really well. I took a lot of confidence from that going into Hoylake. And the way I drove the ball at Hoylake, again, gives me a lot of confidence. And then here this week. But it sets up well for me. It's soft conditions, and I can just go after it. It's not like balls are going to bounce on the fairway and go off. If it lands on the fairway, more than likely it's going to stay there. Yeah, it was - that Sunday at Scottish Open sort of, it gave me confidence, but I'd been driving the ball well leading up to that. But it put it in my mind that maybe I can go to Hoylake and hit a couple more drivers than I thought I was going to.
Q. Rory, the way you played today, it almost looked effortless. Did it feel that way?
RORY McILROY: No, it's not effortless, but it's - you know when I talked about earlier, just it felt normal. It felt - yeah, and, again, I think it's all to do with how I am mentally on the golf course. I'm just sticking to whatever I'm doing right. I'm not really focusing on anything else but that particular shot that I have, and I keep doing that shot after shot. That's sort of what's going on at the minute, and I'm going to try to keep doing it for as long as possible because it's working pretty well. It's never effortless. There's a lot of - you're trying hard out there. You're trying not to make it look like you're trying hard. But there's a few putts I needed to grind over on the back nine and a few tee shots I had to tell myself just make a pretty good swing on this and process and whatever else and keep going with that. Yeah, if I can keep making it look effortless, then that's a good thing.
Q. Rory, what has been the key for you to get into this mental state where the superlative seems normal and you're in the present always?
RORY McILROY: Just putting golf first, I guess, and really dedicating my whole time and everything I have into my career. I've worked - I have worked extremely hard, and I'm reaping the rewards of it now. I worked hard - I've worked hard all year, but I just feel like I've just had this renewed focus and dedication, and it seems just to be paying off.
Q. A follow. What did you learn in your first at No. 1, the most important thing you learned that will help you this time around?
RORY McILROY: Not to think about it too much. Not to feel like you're going defending every week or defending it all the time, just to go out and play. It's a nice honor, and it's a nice title to have, but I don't think you should go into tournaments thinking about it or thinking about, oh, this guy could pass me if I don't finish in this position, or this guy could do this. I think you just go and you play and you try to win golf tournaments, and if you win golf tournaments, the ranking takes care of itself. My goal now until the end of the year is just to try to win as many golf tournaments as I can. It's not to try to finish No.1 in the world. It's just to get as many titles as possible.
Q. How many do you think you can win? You're counting up your schedule.
RORY McILROY: I am, yeah.
Q. How many are on there now?
RORY McILROY: I'm going to take the rest of the year off. Does the grand slam count in Bermuda? Five - does Ryder Cup count as well? Of course Ryder Cup counts. I feel like, with the way I'm playing, there's a few left in me this year.
Q. What level of pleasure do you take to have two weeks on links golf, and then in your next competition, you're in lush parkland and to get the same results?
RORY McILROY: I was licking my lips when I saw this place. It's soft, and these are my conditions. This is my bread and butter. This is what I really enjoy, ball through the air and target golf. But it's been great to - the little bit of practice that I did in Florida last weekend sort of helped me adjust back to high ball and playing my normal game, I guess.
Not that I didn't have to do anything really different at Hoylake because the conditions are pretty soft anyway. But I feel like the run of golf courses we've got coming up as well are going to suit me. I haven't seen Valhalla, but from what I heard, you need to hit it pretty long and drive the ball well. Ridgewood, where we're playing the Barclays, I've played that before, similar sort of golf course. I've done well at Boston before. Don't know much about Cherry Hills in Denver. Atlanta, the Tour Championship, is a little different. But I feel like the stretch of tournaments coming up, the golf courses will set up well for me. Hopefully, I can keep adding to my title haul this year.
Q. You should hit driver on No.1 at Cherry Hills.
RORY McILROY: Do an Arnie? Okay.
Q. What you've done in the past, but does just winning a major and winning a World Golf Championship, does this almost feel like this is sort of what you always wanted, kind of what you dreamed of?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, to win them back to back is something that's - I guess, probably not a lot of people have done it before. Yeah, this is - of course it's what I always dreamed of. I grew up watching Tiger dominate in this tournament and dominate pretty much everywhere else he played. Yeah, I dreamed of one day trying to do something like that. I'm not comparing myself because he's done this millions of times and this is only my first. So I'm not quite there yet. But, yeah, it's what I always wanted to do. It feels great to come here and win on this golf course because it's one of my favorite courses of the year. It's my dad's favorite place on tour. He loves it here, and he loves the golf course. It's actually he's just as happy, if not happier, than me right now that I've won here. So it's good.
Q. Why is it his favorite?
RORY McILROY: Just he loves the golf course. Depending on what side of the draw - like, for instance, G Mac and myself are on, he'd always go and watch G Mac in the morning and then watch me in the afternoon. He'd walk 36 rounds. He just loves the golf course. He really does. So it's cool to be able to win it here with him here too.
Q. I know it was early and congratulations, Rory - but would you say that the second, which has been as close to a guarantee for you as it can get this week, would you say that was a big turning point?
RORY McILROY: It was a big turning point, especially you're expecting the guy beside you to make a birdie as well, and for him not to yeah, to get - to go from three behind standing on the 1st tee to one behind standing on the third tee was big. And then the third hole was another big turning point when I went from one behind to one ahead. So just that stretch of holes was a really important stretch in the tournament, and it set me up to do what I needed to do today.
Q. Rory, what a tremendous performance. It all began on Saturday late after the rain delay. You birdie your last two holes and begin the final round with three straight birdies.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, that was a really important stretch of the golf tournament. The final two coming in last night, and the way I started today, 4 under through the first five, I just started really, really well. Put some pressure on Sergio early. I rode my luck a little bit on the back nine. Sergio had some putts to get close to me. I had a couple of tree limbs that went my way. But I played another really solid round of golf. Obviously, really pleased to get my first World Golf Championship so soon after winning The Open.
Q. You were just so impressive with your driver, averaging 333 yards per hit this week. That set up everything in your game.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I've said it all week. It's the foundation of my game when I drive it like that, I have a pretty good chance to win most weeks, and I've shown that the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, going into Valhalla in good form and try to get three in a row.
Q. I'm looking forward to your action in Louisville. Best of luck.
RORY McILROY: Thank you.
Q. Going to Valhalla No. 1 in the world, what does that mean?
RORY McILROY: It's awesome to go back. It's felt like a long time since I lost that No. 1 spot, but it feels good to be back on the top. Hopefully, I can keep it for a while.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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