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Will McIlroy Have an Advantage at Ocean Course?


As a native of Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy has experienced many links courses during his 23 years. During his formative years the County Down native frequented Holywood Golf Club in his hometown as well as such outstanding area layouts as Royal Portrush and Royal County Down.

So will he have any advantage in the final major of the year, the PGA Championship, which starts Thursday on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C.? McIlroy has the length to tackle the Pete Dye-designed course, which at 7,676 yards will be the longest venue ever used for a Grand Slam event.

He also has the skill set, as evidenced by his record-setting eight-shot victory in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. But he's struggled in this year's majors, finishing tied for 40th in the Masters, missing the cut in defense of his U.S. Open title at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, and finishing T-60 in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham, where he started promisingly with a 3-under 67 but then shot rounds of 75, 73 and 73.

So what's he think of the Dye-abolical windswept Ocean Course located alongside the Atlantic? "It's a long golf course, a big golf course, a golf course you not only have to hit it well, but you really have to think about what you're doing out there," he told reporters Wednesday on the eve of the PGA Championship.

"You really have to pick your spots where you want to hit it, and obviously with the weather the way it's been this week, that's going to play a pretty big factor, too. But you know, I like what I see. I think the course is in phenomenal shape. I love the greens. I love the Paspalum (grass). I think the ball rolls really, really well so I'm looking forward to the week."

In the following Q&A, the No. 3-ranked player in the world also discusses his season to date and whether he believes he has an advantage on the type of course he grew up playing. Here's what McIlroy told the media.

MODERATOR: 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy joining us at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. This is Rory's fourth PGA Championship. He tied for third in both 2009 and 2010. Rory, thanks for joining us. Comments on what you've seen so far from practicing and preparing on the course for this championship.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's a long golf course, a big golf course. It's a golf course you not only have to hit it well, but you really have to think about what you're doing out there. You know, you really have to pick your spots where you want to hit it, and obviously with the weather the way it's been this week, that's going to play a pretty big factor, too. But you know, I like what I see. I think the course is in phenomenal shape. I love the greens. I love the Paspalum. I think the ball rolls really, really well. So I'm looking forward to the week.

Q. Being from where you're from, and other guys that are from overseas in the U.K. and Northern Ireland, Ireland, playing so many links style courses and playing in the wind, do you feel like you and some other guys from over in that area have an advantage on this style of course, even though you're playing in heat and humidity in South Carolina?

RORY McILROY: Not really. I mean, I think if the golf course was playing a little firmer, maybe. But because it's so soft, of course there's going to be a little bit of wind, but it's not playing like it really is designed to be played or how it should be played. So I think anyone has got a good chance this week, and people that can hit it long and hit it in the fairway are going to have a great chance.

Q. How would you rate your year to date, and what are you pleased with and what are you disappointed with?

RORY McILROY: It's been good. You know, there was a few goals I set myself early at the start of the year, which I achieved; getting to No. 1 in the world, and playing well, winning a tournament early. And then the second half of the season has been - it's still been pretty good. It's been a little bit more of a struggle. But you know, I feel like I'm playing pretty well, so, I mean, if I had to give my season a grade to this point, I'd probably give it a "B." There's still a lot of golf left to play, but very happy with some of the golf that I've played this year. You know, I've still got a lot of good golf to look forward to.

Q. You spoke at the Open about a frustration of inconsistency in your game. You obviously did very well again last week. Do you feel you've turned a corner since then, and if so, what is that down to?

RORY McILROY: I've worked hard on it, and I suppose it's just becoming more comfortable and just playing a bit more golf. You know, I sort of found out over the last couple of weeks that just standing there and hitting balls on the range isn't something that's going to be good for me. I need to get out there and play, see shots on the course. That's something I've tried to do the last few weeks. I started to feel quite comfortable last week, started to hit the ball the way I usually do, hitting a few fairways and hitting a lot of greens. My greens in regulation was down for a couple of months there, so to see that come back up was nice. Ball striking has got better, and from there, you're giving yourself a lot of chances for birdies, which is good.

Q. 16 different winners in the last 16, and you're the only one who has got to No. 1 out of that; are you surprised that you've not gone on and won a second one, and is it frustrating?

RORY McILROY: Not really. I've hopefully got 25 more years to try and win major championships. Yeah, it would be nice. I'm disappointed that I have not contended since. That's been the disappointing thing. I haven't given myself even a chance. I was in a good position at the Masters going into Saturday and shot a bad third round there and sort of blew myself out of contention. It would be great just to give myself a chance this week, get into contention and just feel that buzz again of getting into contention in a major and remembering how it feels.

Q. About the 16 majors, 16 different winners, this has not happened in 25 years. Why do you think that's happening now in golf, and would you prefer it this way? Do you think it's better for golf this way, or to have one guy dominate like it was?

RORY McILROY: I don't know, I don't think one guy dominating is particularly - it creates a lot of interest in the sport and makes a lot of people stand up and take notice of what's going on in golf. For me, I'm just happy to be part of that group of 16. I think the reason that it's been like this, the fields are much deeper. Partly because the guys have just got better and have worked hard and they are putting more into the game, you know, physically, mentally, practice, technical, everything. But I think one of the big things is the technology. I think 25 years ago, you had the really good players that could play with basically anything, and nowadays, the technology lets maybe some of the lesser players catch up to the better players. And I think that's why you see so many more guys winning these days.

Q. You said this course can't be played the way it's designed. To the layman, you see an ocean course like this, and they think links style golf. Explain why this course can't be played on the ground like a links style course. And if the wind and rain starts to blow here, is this more of a mental test or a physical test of golf?

RORY McILROY: I think it can't be played along the ground here because just the type of grass that it is; the type of grass and the Paspalum here is quite sticky. So the ball, it doesn't run very far when it pitches. Even if you get the greens firm here, the ball is still going to grab on this grass. Yeah, I think when - I think most Pete Dye courses, anyway, are mental challenges more than physical. Even though this is a very long golf course, mentally you've really got to be on the top of your game. And if the wind and the rain comes, it's obviously going to be more about how you mentally approach that than physical, yeah.

Q. We've seen Jim and Adam lose leads down the stretch and they have attributed it to pressure in two of the last three weeks, and you experienced it at the Masters and you also experienced the complete opposite with having a large lead at Congressional. How would you explain pressure down the stretch with the lead and when it's your tournament to win and how it compares to having a large lead?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, coming down the stretch, it is your tournament to win if you have a lead, but it's also your tournament to lose. So obviously you want to approach it the first way and go and say, this is my tournament, I'm in front, I'm going to stamp my authority here and I'm going to go ahead and win. But it's hard. You know, it's hard to win. It's hard to hold onto leads. Especially last week, Jim got off to that great start, 3 under through three, had a bit of a lead, and Keegan starts to come back, he charges, makes a lot of putts coming in. And all of a sudden, the pressure that Jim probably didn't feel most of the way through that round, he started to feel on the last couple holes.

It's sort of probably a little bit of a shock to the system. A little bit like me at the Masters; I felt completely in control over the first three days, stepped up on the first tee box on the Sunday and didn't feel in control. So it was a bit of a shock; I was like, wow, this feels a bit different. Again, same with Adam at the Open. Birdies 14 and you think from there, this guy is going to win. He hits a couple bad shots coming in, and all of a sudden, it knocks your confidence a bit. It's just the way it goes. We've seen it a lot this year with the start of the season; Kyle Stanley at Torrey Pines, and then he comes back in Arizona and wins from six behind or whatever. It's just been a strange season like that, and I don't know if there's any way to explain it. It's tough to win out here, and every time you do win, you can't take it for granted.

Q. I was going to ask a similar question, if you thought that it was just a coincidence. It has happened a lot on Tour this year, guys not hanging onto leads; or if you had a theory as to why that's happened so often and if maybe it just sort of builds. Guys have seen others lose leads, and if it might maybe get in their head.

RORY McILROY: It could do. It could do. You know, every year has a certain trend. I don't know, you know, and this year, it just seems the trend is that it's hard to hold on to the lead. I don't think there's any theory behind it, or you can think too much into it. It's just something that happens, you know. For three days, you're just playing, you're playing golf and you're not really thinking about the result. You're just trying to get yourself into that position and when you get yourself into that position, that's when the pressure comes and when you have to finish it off. So obviously the fourth day of any tournament, if you're in contention, it does feel a little different than the first three days, and you just have to handle that well.

Q. Just going back to that weekend at the Masters, up to that point in your season, you were absolutely flying. Do you think with the benefits of hindsight, some of the letdown you've felt since can be traced back to the disappointment of that weekend?

RORY McILROY: Not particularly, because the tournament straight after the Masters was Quail Hollow and I got myself into position to win there and got into a playoff. No, I don't think so. I was obviously very disappointed after the Masters, because I felt going into it that I was playing really well, playing great golf. You know, played a little scrappy the first two days but still got it around and was a couple off the lead going into the weekend. So felt like I had a great chance. To fall away like that was disappointing, but I don't think that has had any real significance on how I've played since.

Q. You were saying you give your season so far a "B." You obviously had your "A" game when you blew everyone away at Congressional. Do you feel you've played to that level at all since then, and how close do you think you might be this week to having an "A" game?

RORY McILROY: I felt at the start of the year, definitely. That run at Match Play, Honda and Doral, I played very well for those three weeks, and you know, gave myself a chance to win in all three; I did win one of them. Yeah, I mean, I'd love to play like that a few weeks a year, the way I played last year at Congressional. Some weeks it's just on and you feel it and everything goes well. And I wish I had more weeks like that, but that's golf. That's what the best players do. They learn how to win when they are not playing with their "A" game, and that's something that I'm still learning how to do.

Q. You spoke earlier about switching your attention from the range to playing more on the course. Is that because you don't need to be on the range as much or you just don't want to be?

RORY McILROY: I think certain players feel differently. Certain players feel like they need to be on the range for two or three hours a day and really work on drills. And for me, I feel I practice much better on the course when I can see different shots and work it off different targets and just play, play golf. I'll still go and practice on the range and work on things that I have to, but once I feel comfortable that I've done that, I'll want to go on to the course and make sure it's good out there.

Q. What do you have to do this week for this championship to be considered a success?

RORY McILROY: For me, I would say get in contention, give myself a chance to win on Sunday. That's all I can ask for. You know, I can't sit up here and say, you know, a success would be to win or a top three or a top five. If I feel like I have a decent chance going into Sunday, that's all I can ask for.

Q. Similar conditions this week to Congressional, I think. Obviously long course and soft, warm air. Are you feeling that, too?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm feeling the heat. I think everyone is. It's hot and humid out there. Getting eaten alive by these insects, as well, which isn't very nice. Yeah, the ball, it's sea level here, though. The ball at Congressional was going a long way. Here, it's sea level and the ball doesn't go quite as far; even as far as it was going last week in Ohio. That's something that we are going to have to adjust to, as well.

Q. Does it feel like you're at a linksy course that's playing like an American course?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's very similar to Whistling Straits in 2010.

Q. You say that Pete Dye courses generally offer more of a mental than a physical challenge, and you found that mental challenge at Sawgrass quite difficult. What is it about this place or perhaps yourself that makes you find this place more playable for you?

RORY McILROY: I think it's just a little more straightforward. You're not hitting across as many fairways. I think there's a few more targets to aim at in the horizon, whether it be a TV tower or a grandstand. Even if you're not comfortable with the shape of the hole, you can still just stand up there and you have your target and you hit it at it. You know, that's one of the reasons, and it is, it's a golf course that is more in front of you than maybe other Pete Dye courses are, so it's something that I quite like.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about the Paspalum greens. I wonder if you could tell us at what stage in your life you first heard that word, if you can spell it for us, and your general thoughts.

RORY McILROY: P a s p a l u m, and the Bear's Club actually have Paspalum. We practice on Paspalum all the time; me, Luke, Keegan, Dustin. It's something we are quite used to and something I was talking to Luke about yesterday, something that the guys that are members of the Bear's Club might have an advantage because we are used to how it reacts and we practice on that stuff on our off weeks, so it's actually quite nice. It's very spiny. When you see guys chipping off of greens and hitting wedge shots, it bites a lot. Even as I said earlier, when the greens are firm, just this certain type of grass, it just really grabs the ball. So you can be aggressive with your chip shots and definitely aggressive with your wedge shots, too.

MODERATOR: Rory McIlroy, thank you very much.

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