McIlroy Hopes to Return to Winner's Circle This Week

After winning the U.S. Open at Congressional in resounding fashion, Rory McIlroy has had a spotty couple of tournaments since then. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland is hoping all that changes this week in Akron, Ohio, for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

McIlroy took a month off after the U.S. Open before tackling Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England, for the British Open. He finished tied for 25th in some brutal weather conditions, which he complained about, drawing some negative attention to his comments.

Then in last week's Irish Open, where he was the crowd favorite at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, he got into a social-media row with a Golf Channel reporter who, while following the young Ulsterman, said McIlroy displayed poor course management on the 18th hole - which he double-bogeyed - and should fire his caddie, , J.P. Fitzgerald, who has been his looper for three years.

McIlroy fired back on Twitter at reporter Jay Townsend, writing, "Shut up . . . you're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!"

On Wednesday on the eve of this week's Bridgestone Invitational, McIlroy recognized that he might have thought a bit more about what he said, but defended his reactions, saying "I don't think there is anything wrong with speaking your mind," McIlroy said.

"It's tough because different people have different opinions. Speaking your mind creates conversation and as long as you're willing to accept the criticism that comes with that, then that's fine. I'm always very honest in interviews and I'm always trying to give good answers."

McIlroy also said that he has spoken to PGA Tour officials about a tour card for next season, meaning he would play at least 15 events on the PGA Tour in 2012. He said he would start looking for a place to live in Florida, perhaps in the Orlando or West Palm Beach area, after next week's PGA Championship.

"I feel I play my best golf over here," he said. "I'm very comfortable in this country. Yeah, I'm definitely looking toward coming back and playing a full schedule."

Here's what else McIlroy, one of the favorites in the $8.5 million event, had to say Wednesday during a Q&A with reporters at Firestone Country Club.

MODERATOR: Rory, thanks as always for joining us. Welcome to the Bridgestone Invitational, an event you played well in last year, four rounds in the 60s and a top 10 finish. Give us your thoughts on coming back here.

RORY McILROY: This is definitely one of my favorite tournaments of the year, one of my favorite golf courses. As you said, I played pretty well last year, four rounds in the 60s and a top 10, and I thought it was a nice weekend into the last major of the year. And I did okay at Whistling Straits, as well. So looking for something pretty similar this week. It would be nice to get myself into contention but also try and work on my game and get sharp and make sure that I'm ready to go for the PGA.

MODERATOR: You did a full 18 holes this morning. Give us your thoughts on the course and your game.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, the course is great. Obviously it's a little soft after all the rain last night, but hopefully that should be the end of the rain, and the course will dry up as the week goes on. It's in phenomenal shape like it always is, and yeah, just looking forward to getting started. My game is in decent shape, did a good bit of work with my coach Michael Bannon on Monday back home in Belfast and feel as if it's coming together pretty nicely.

Q. This is the first year that spectators have been able to bring cell phones out on the course. Has there been an issue at all? Have there been any shots where you've been negatively impacted?

RORY McILROY: No, not really. I think the crowds are very knowledgeable and they know just to put them on silent. I think it's a good thing that people can bring their cell phones into tournaments now on the PGA Tour. It can encourage more people to come. But yeah, it hasn't really been a distraction at all.

Q. This is your first tournament back in the States as the U.S. Open champion. Is there sort of a sense of excitement, a sense of buzz in you being back here?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm very excited about these two weeks, definitely. It's great to be back here and feel the reception I got out there today, even just in the practice round was incredible. Yeah, I mean, really happy to be back, and as I said, looking forward to two big weeks.

Q. Not that anybody would expect you to play at the level you played at Congressional every week, but is there anything that's been a little off that you put your finger on the last two tournaments?

RORY McILROY: Not really. I mean, I felt as if I was playing really well going into the Open and shot two decent scores on Thursday and Friday and was in a good position going into the weekend. And Saturday just didn't go the way I wanted it to and shot 74 and really put myself out of the tournament. But no, I mean, I felt really good going into that week, I just wasn't able to get myself right into contention. And then last week at the Irish Open for the Irish guys is a tough week. You're sort of being pulled here and there and everywhere, and it sort of is hard to have your focus 100 percent on the golf because there's so much else going on around it. Yeah, it wasn't the greatest of weeks, but really last week I was just trying to get -- I was obviously trying to play well but get that over and done with and concentrate on these two weeks coming up.

Q. With Tiger coming back after a long layoff, there's a lot of curiosity amongst the fans and media and whatnot about how he'll go around this week. Do you feel somewhat of a curiosity yourself and amongst the players as to how he comes back and gets his form back?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, obviously I'm a player, but I'm a fan of golf and of sports, and it's a very compelling -- you sort of -- everyone wants to know what he's going to do if he comes back, how is he going to play, how is his knee, people want to know. It'll be interesting. I think the draw has worked out really well for him playing with (Darren Clarke) the first two days. He'll feel very comfortable in that environment. Darren is a very good friend of his. Yeah, it'll be interesting to see how he does come back.

Q. A year ago exactly to the day, Graeme McDowell sat where you are in exactly the same position as you are coming back to the USA for the first time, and he talked so much about how he was searching for a way to get back to work mentally, I mean, fascinated, talking about needing to talk to Padraig (Harrington), needing to find it. You don't seem to have any issues with that. You seem very different anyway.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm really -- as I said, I'm really concentrating on these two weeks. This week is a big week. It will be great to get myself into contention and have a chance to win, but ultimately you're really just looking to get the game in the best possible shape going into next week, the last major of the year. I feel as if I can have a good one this week, get a bit of confidence going into next week, I can have a good chance of winning my second major. That's the thought process that I'm going through at the minute.

Q. So mentally you've had no problems kind of going back to work?

RORY McILROY: No, not at all. Not at all. It's nice, it's great to get back out on the golf course. I mean, I've only played two events since winning the U.S. Open, so to get back out on the golf course, it's nice. I've said this before to all the guys, it's the place that I feel most comfortable.

Q. You've obviously come into a whole new level of scrutiny since winning the U.S. Open and you've had a couple of things that you've said or done where it's been the hot topic of the day with your weather comments about the British and the Twitter thing last week. I'm just wondering how that's affected you, if at all, and how that changes the way you do business going forward or how you took those lumps and plan to handle it.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I think the comments after the Open Championship, I was very frustrated. I was frustrated with how my weekend had went. I mean, I was speaking what was on my mind. If I had to do it again, I probably would have said something a little different. Yeah, it was just the way I was feeling at that point. And what happened last week in Ireland with the whole Twitter thing was unfortunate. Again, just off the golf course after making a double bogey, going through, having lunch, going through Twitter, seeing a couple of comments, and I just responded to them. That's the world that we live in these days; everything is instant and everything is in the public domain. Yeah, I'll maybe think about things a little more carefully next time I do something like that. It won't stop me from Tweeting or speaking my mind.

Q. Just to follow on that, given that scrutiny and given the experience of the past couple of months, does that give you a new appreciation for Tiger having gone through this 14 times?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, of course. I mean, how he handled everything from '97 until today, how he found time even just to manage his whole schedule and found time to practice, found time to do all the commitments that he had but still be so focused on his game. I'm looking at it and I'm nowhere near in the same position he's in, but to have that level of focus and keep it going from '97 to '08, I think, was the U.S. Open at Torrey, so for 11 years to just keep going and going, it is incredible, really, what he's done.

Q. You spoke about how Dave Stockton really helped you with your putting going into the Masters, and Darren spoke about how Bob Rotella really helped him with his mental game going into the Open. Now Lee Westwood is working with Dave Stockton and Bob Rotella. Should we be putting stock into that?

RORY McILROY: He should win by 12 next week.

Q. He's obviously worked something out there?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, you know, he would be quite close to myself and Darren, and he's seen the work that I've done with Dave pay off at the U.S. Open, and he saw the work that Darren did with Bob Rotella pay off at the Open. He's searching for a way to try and win his first major, and to see two people very close to him win consecutive majors, it probably made him think he should try to look at something a little different already or try new things. If it works for him, that's great.

Q. I think part of what's very appealing about you to a lot of people is that you do speak your mind. Why is there anything wrong with doing that, no matter how instant or what the venue?

RORY McILROY: You know, I don't think there is anything wrong with speaking your mind, but it's just -- I don't know, it's tough because different people have different opinions. And some people have an opinion about what you say and whether it's good or bad. Speaking your mind creates conversation, and as long as you're willing to accept the criticism that comes along with that, then that's fine. I'm always very honest in interviews and I'm always trying to give good answers and try to at least -- if someone asks me a question, at least give an honest answer, so that's all I try and do.

Q. What do you think would be a success for Tiger this week in terms of what he could get out of the week?

RORY McILROY: I don't know. I mean, I really don't know. The last tournament he played, he had to pull out after nine holes, so I think just to see how his knee holds up over 72 holes. And if he can do that, then I think the week has been -- no one expects him to come out and play well. I'm sure he expects himself to come out and play and compete, but given the length of layoff and considering that he's only been able to hit full shots for the last two weeks or whatever, it would be an unbelievable effort if he was to come back and compete. But I think just get through 72 holes and maybe finish in the top 20 I think would be a really good effort.

Q. How has life in the spotlight changed after your major win, especially when people were starting to say the next Tiger Woods?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's been -- I've never paid attention to the comparisons or potential, whatever they say, whether it be Tiger's 14 or Jack's 18 or whatever. All I'm doing is looking for my second major and basically looking for my fourth career win, wherever it may come. I mean, people make comparisons to Tiger who's won over 70 PGA Tour events, 14 majors, and Jack has won 18 majors and hundreds of tournaments. I mean, I'm looking for my fourth win. That's all I can say about that.

Q. Do you find it flattering or annoying or what would be the right term, all this interest in your love life and who you're holding hands with? We're talking about levels of scrutiny, that's part of the game now because you're the up and coming guy and everybody wants to know everything about you.

RORY McILROY: It's fine. I mean, we're -- I think the person that I'm holding hands with, we're both in a position where we can -- where there's a high level of scrutiny, and it's just something that you have to deal with. It's not something that's ever going to go away, or I hope it doesn't go away because it means that I won't be playing good golf. It's part of -- it's going to be part of my career now.

Q. A little bit earlier Hunter Mahan was in here, and he said that in a way the prospects of Tiger's return are scary. And I asked him why is that and based on what. What's your reaction to a notion like that, that there's something about his return which is in a way scary?

RORY McILROY: To be honest I don't understand what he means by scary. I think it's great for golf, his return. And someone that's playing in this tournament or competing against another player shouldn't think that a return of a player is scary. It could be a challenge, but it's not something that you should be scared of. It's something that you should relish and say, well, if Tiger does come back and play his best, at least that's the benchmark that I'm going to try and achieve.

Q. He did make that broad of a point. I don't want to twist his words completely, but he said that and I just wanted your reaction.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think it would be -- I wouldn't use the word "scary," but it would be maybe a little intimidating if you knew for sure that he was going to come back and play the way he did in 2000 or 2001, but who knows for sure what way the game is going to go.

Q. One more quick thing about your scrutiny. I don't want to belabor the point, but do you think you will get to the point where you won't read those comments? You said you sort of got yourself in trouble when you started reading these little things on Twitter. Do you think you might just not look at some of that stuff in the future?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I hope it doesn't get to that point because --

Q. Harrington doesn't read anything.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I try not to -- the weeks that I'm playing tournaments, I try not to read papers or go on Twitter that much. But as I said earlier, I'm a sports fan, and I like to read the sports pages. Yeah, I mean, I don't really like reading much about myself anyway.

Q. How have you found the reaction away from the course since you've come back to America? Is it sort of ramped up markedly?

RORY McILROY: A little bit. Yeah, I've only really been here for 20 hours maybe (laughter), so --

Q. I saw you last night and people were -

RORY McILROY: Yeah, of course. I think I'll probably be a little more recognizable in this country now after what happened at Congressional, which is a nice thing. Again, going back to the point that I'd rather it be that way than no one coming up to me and asking for pictures and autographs because then you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing.

Q. Any change in your thoughts about membership and whatnot on this side going forward? Is that still something you guys are still kicking around on the management front?

RORY McILROY: I spoke to a couple of the guys from the PGA Tour today about it, and I'm leaning towards taking my card up again definitely. I feel as if I play my best golf over here. I'm very comfortable in this country. You know, I'm going to look at a few houses down in Florida after the PGA. Yeah, I'm definitely looking towards coming back and playing a full schedule over here.

Q. Whereabouts?

RORY McILROY: A couple of places. I might go and stay with G-Mac for a night at Lake Nona and see what that's like and then down in West Palm Beach and Jupiter, around there.

Q. What sort of generated the interest in taking up your card again, particularly after what you said to us in Shanghai?

RORY McILROY: Probably the Open.

Q. The reaction?

RORY McILROY: No, the weather. (Laughter.) I mean, I just thought about it. I feel as if my game really suits playing courses over here. I love Quail Hollow, Memorial, Akron. You play Match Play, Honda, Doral, Masters. You have your favorite events, and most of my favorite events seem to be on this side of the pond. And my game suits it over here. I'm very comfortable over here. I'd like to give it a go again and obviously last more than one year and really see how it goes.

Q. Will you just grin and bear the FedEx thing, because you didn't enjoy it last night?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, the only thing about the FedEx was that you only got a week off after the PGA and then straight back into four weeks out of five that were pretty tough. It was a bit of a -- it's hard to keep it going for that length of time. But yeah, it's something that you just have to accept.

Q. And the Players, are you going to do that now, yeah?

RORY McILROY: I haven't thought about it, but I mean, most likely, yeah, I probably will.

Q. I'm trying to remember, I know there were stipulations that came attached to giving up your card the first time around. I imagine that's what you were alluding to when you have to talk to them about what to do to get your membership back in such a short window of time because you've sort of been put on probation for giving it up the last time?

RORY McILROY: No, I think if you don't fulfill your 15 tournaments, and then you can get into a little bit of trouble with trying to get it back. But if you fulfilled your 15 and then give it up after the season and didn't -- I think it's -- I mean, I haven't really read into it or talked or really know the ins and outs of it.

Q. No problems as far as you can see right now just flipping a switch and coming back that they were able to paint for you?

RORY McILROY: I hope not.

Q. When do you have to let them know?

RORY McILROY: Not until -- not for a while.

Q. I don't want to pry, but with your personal life changing, home and everything in Belfast, has that been any factor in it?

RORY McILROY: Maybe a little bit, yeah, definitely.

MODERATOR: Rory, thanks as always for your time, and good luck this week.

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