McIlroy Can Turn Things around this Week

Though much was expected of him in January, this hasn't been the best of years for Rory McIlroy. Expectations were keen for the 24-year-old, and why wouldn't they be?

In addition to winning two majors in record-setting fashion -the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional and an eight-stroke triumph in last year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, the precocious Northern Irishman has racked up four other PGA Tour victories and three in Europe during his brief time as a touring pro.

But, at the start of the year while ranked No. 1 in the world, McIlroy signed a much-ballyhooed multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Nike, started tweaking his swing, and began hearing from critics about some of his personal choices. He added fuel to the fire by pulling out of February's Honda Classic midway through the second round, citing tooth pain but later recanting that story, and McIlroy later received criticism from Nick Faldo about his lack of concentration and focus.

The latest controversy is outright weird. Gary Player, the 77-year-old Hall of Fame member who recently made headlines of his own by becoming the oldest player ever to appear nude in ESPN the Magazine's annual "Body" issue, said Rory needs to get married in order to find harmony on the golf course.

"When you're in love as a young man naturally golf seems to take second place for a while," Player said on Monday. "It's natural. Love is still the greatest thing that ever happens in our lives. But the thing is for a man like Rory with talent galore he's got to make sure he has a woman like I've got, who has been married [to me] for 56 years, that has only encouraged me to do well and made sacrifices.

"He's got to be intelligent and find the right wife. If he finds the right wife, if he practices and if he's dedicated, he could be the man."

Of course, another favorite McIlroy topic in the blogosphere is his ongoing relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, who has not been a behind-the-scenes presence when he's been out in public. Indeed, the 23-year-old Dane served as McIlroy's caddie during the par-3 contest at this year's Masters.

But, as usual, McIlroy maintains a level of equanimity that many sports stars should emulate. "I have the utmost respect for Gary," McIlroy said Wednesday, avoiding a direct response to Player's remarks. "He's obviously one of the greatest champions that I've just ever seen, and I think that as a man, he's an incredible human being. To be his age and to keep himself as physically fit as he has and to lead the life that he has, I have nothing but respect for Gary."

McIlroy could quell all the commentary if he starts playing better. In 11 events this year, he's had four top-10 finishes and five in the top-25, earning a relatively meager $1,390,586 on the PGA Tour. His last win came in November in Dubai on the European Tour, while his most recent title came last September in BMW Championship.

Despite his play in 2013, McIlroy is still ranked No. 2 in the world behind Tiger Woods and he has another chance to ameliorate things this week at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The $8.75 million PGA Tour event begins Thursday. McIlroy will be paired in the first round with Brandt Snedeker, who won last week's Canadian Open.

On Wednesday, McIlroy talked with reporters via a teleconference about the brouhaha swirling around him and what he's been doing to get his game back on track. Here's what the curly-haired Ulsterman had to say to the media on the eve of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The chat occurred during media day for the 2013 Deutsche Bank Championship, which will take place August 30-September 2 at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., and where McIlroy will be the defending champion.

MODERATOR: Thank you, welcome, everyone. Appreciate you all taking an opportunity to join us for this call with our defending champion, Rory McIlroy. As all of you know, Rory had a tremendous year last year, winning the Deutsche Bank Championship, one of four tournaments that he won, shooting 67 on Sunday to finish at 20 under par beating Louis Oosthuizen. Delighted to have him with us and look forward to welcoming back to TPC Boston. Rory, thanks very much for being with us today.

RORY McILROY: No problem, Greg.

Q. You said earlier in a press conference that you can sometimes get too emotionally involved with your golf. Wonder if you can expand on what you meant by that and what you can do to remain more detached, if that's the right word.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, what I was trying to say was I sort of let a good shot and a bad shot affect me a little bit too much I think. You know, sometimes I get a little bit too excited about a good shot and a little bit too down about a bad shot. So all I was trying to say was just try to keep it more on an even keel out on the golf course and, as I say, not get too excited about a bad round or a good round or whatever. Just try and keep it a little more level.

Q. Wonder if you had not heard Gary Player's recent comments about you, and wonder if earlier today you had a chance to see those comments and if you had any response to them.

RORY McILROY: No, I mean, just as I said in the press conference, I have the utmost respect for Gary. He's obviously one of the greatest champions that I've just ever seen, and I think that as a man, he's an incredible human being. To be his age and to keep himself as physically fit as he has and to lead the life that he has, I have nothing but respect for Gary.

Q. Wonder if you can explain how golf seems different now than when you and Louis were on the course that Monday afternoon?

RORY McILROY: I'm not so sure. I guess when you're in the heat of the battle and you're sort of in the moment and all you're doing is trying to win a golf tournament, I guess sort of your instincts take over a little bit. You know, you just play and you try to shoot a score. You try to - obviously when things haven't been quite going your way, you start to think about it a little bit more. You start to think about technique. You start to think about all that sort of stuff.

You know, that's what I need - I need to get back to playing golf again and just seeing the shots and hitting them and visualizing it, and not thinking as much about technique or much about mechanics. And that's something obviously that I'm going and try and do over the next few weeks, because it obviously worked very well this time last year, obviously the PGA, but, you know, in Boston, as well.

Q. How many rounds of golf have you played this year, if you know what I mean.

RORY McILROY: How many rounds of golf have I played?

Q. Not physically played, but played in kind of the definition you just gave a minute ago where you go out -

RORY McILROY: I think the best round of golf I played this year was the last round in San Antonio, because I was in contention and I was trying to win a golf tournament. You stop thinking about mechanics and you stop thinking about technique and all you're trying to do is get the ball in the hole. That's something that I need to try and do more of.

Q. I was going to ask about next week, given the amount of scrutiny you've been under all year, and Tiger has been under since 2008, who is in more dire need of a major next week, you or him?

RORY McILROY: (Laughing) I've won two in the last two years, it would be great to continue that trend and win another this year and make it three years in a row. You know, he's got 14, I've got two, so I'd better try and catch up. So I think I need one more than he does.

Q. You've been pretty candid this year about the difficulties that you've had playing golf, and looking back sort of this time a year ago, the PGA, the Deutsche Bank, the BMW, and in golf, no matter what player or level you're playing at, it seems like it's a game about confidence. I'm curious if you would agree about the way you've been playing this year and lately, you're not as confident as you were during that stretch last year; is that fair to say?

RORY McILROY: It's definitely fair to say. I feel like I'm a confident person, but when you play some tournaments and they don't go your way, of course your confidence is going to get knocked a little bit. I just need one good round or one good week to get that confidence back. I don't think it's something that you really need to build up over a period of time. I was in a very similar position with my golf game this time last year, and you know, I played a really good tournament at Akron, got a lot of confidence from that. Brought it into the PGA, won there, and then obviously went and won another few times around the world and obviously at the Deutsche Bank, as well.

You know, winning, as well, winning is a habit. Once you get into the knack of it, you get on a roll and you can get yourself into contention; and if you keep winning all the time, you get into the habit of knowing what to do or knowing what it takes to get that trophy at the end of the week. Obviously that's a habit that I'm trying to get back into. Confidence wise, I don't think I'm very far away. I feel like my game is in pretty good shape. It's just a matter of letting it happen on the golf course.

Q. It's probably not fair to compare this year to last, but do you see signs this year, you mentioned that you kind of felt like you were close at this time last year and then you had a really good stretch. Lately have you seen signs that you might be close again?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure. I actually feel I'm in better spirits about my golf game this year than I was this time last year honestly, because I think coming into Akron last year, I was searching and I was really trying to figure out what I needed to do with my golf game to get it back where I wanted it to be, and this year I definitely don't feel like I'm searching for as many answers. I don't feel like I'm looking for at many things and it's just a matter of letting it all happen on the golf course. You know, it's definitely close, and again, it's just a matter of it all clicking into place and whether that's over one round or one week or whatever it is, I definitely don't feel like it's too far away.

Q. A couple of questions. Since the Open Championship, what have you done regarding trying to improve your game?

RORY McILROY: Actually I went home to Northern Ireland at the weekend there and played some golf with my buddies, buddies that I've grown up with and stuff, and I found that very beneficial. Because you play so much golf on Tour, and you sort of, I guess you forget why you play the game. You play the game because you love it and you don't really - I don't get the opportunity to go and play golf with my buddies much anymore. So to be able to go and do that for the weekend was something that I really enjoyed. I guess it's good, it makes you feel good and you have an attitude change.

I've also been doing a lot of work with my coach, Michael Bannon. He's been doing a lot on TrakMan and working a lot on that, which has really helped. I feel like working with that has really helped me understand why the ball does what it does sometimes and obviously what you need to do with the club to be able to, to be able to fix that or to be able to rectify that and get instant feedback the whole time. So you try to hit a fade once, say you leak it a little bit to the right, it tells you exactly why. Okay, your clubface was a little bit open to the path line, and the next shot, all you try and do is square the clubface up and you've hit a good shot. Just doing a little bit of work with that and instant feedback I feel has definitely helped.

Q. The stats would show that what's down in your game this year is actually putting and scrambling, I think the scrambling is around 52 percent and the putting rank is low. Do you feel that yourself or do you think the thing that's held you back is ball hitting?

RORY McILROY: I mean, I would say - I think it's a combination of both. But I think the most the thing that I've been disappointed about most this year has been my driving. I just haven't hit as many fairways as I should or that I have done. So I think that's what's really killed my scoring ability. It's obviously much easier to score from the fairway than it is from the rough. But yeah, my putting definitely hasn't been that good, but I had a good couple of days with Dave Stockton here in Akron yesterday and today, so I feel like I'm in a better place with that and feel like I've got everything I need to sort of go forward from here and definitely have a good end of the season.

Q. Last year, you won two Playoff events and yet you did not win the FedEx Cup. I know you were asked a lot about it, but a year later, does the system seem okay that you did not win it, and would you like to see some sort of a tweak?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, obviously you play well in the Playoffs and you get a couple of wins; I think I finished 10th at the Tour Championship. I mean, obviously Brandt Snedeker played very well, also, and he won the last tournament, but there's obviously a lot of emphasis on that last tournament, which is understandable. You want an exciting finish and you want an exciting climax. You know, I can understand why it is that way. It's not going to be much excitement for the fans or for the media or for anyone when a guy just shows up and hits a ball off the first tee and that's him, he's won. It has to be played until the last hole.

Yeah, I mean, I didn't - look, it would have been nice to win, but I didn't feel hard done by or anything. I won two fantastic tournaments. I won a great tournament in Boston and was really proud of that. Yeah, finishing second in the FedEx Cup is no disgrace, and even though I didn't get the ten million, I still got very well looked after for my second place, so I wasn't complaining too much.

Q. Not trying to drag a bad memory here, but as we think back to the start of the year and the Honda, curious, what is the state of your wisdom teeth? Did you ever get them worked on in the summer or anything or are they feeling okay or what?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, they are doing all right. Actually when I was home I went and got them checked. I still every now and again I need to take pills for them, like antibiotic pills to just try to keep them sort of at bay I guess. But yeah, they flare up every now and again, but not so bad that I sort of need to get them out at the minute.

Q. I saw the clip, and I don't know if I've seen you get asked about this, but the shot or the commercial you shot for the European Tour with the big robot, the robot thing, was a lot of that ad libbed? Were you surprised by any of that? It looked like your reactions, you were kind of caught off guard by some of the dialogue. Curious how that played out?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was completely ab libbed and there was no scripting involved at all in that. There was a guy, a comedian that was sort of saying all the lines to me and it was all very up scripted. It was a great shoot to be a part of and obviously a lot of fun. It's been really well received, obviously millions of views on YouTube. I was very happy to be a part of it. It was a fun afternoon shooting it.

Q. One take?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, once, just kept going, just going for like a couple of hours, and obviously at the end, they put it all together and edited it and obviously you saw the final cut. But yeah, there was a lot of stuff that couldn't have been put in. There was a lot of - there was a few expletives flying around.

MODERATOR: Thanks again, Rory. Appreciate everybody joining us on the call so look forward to seeing everyone at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. Best of luck to you this week, Rory.

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