McIlroy Test Drives Oak Hill

Rory McIlroy caught his first glimpse of the course where he'll defend his PGA Championship title in August, and he liked what he saw of Oak Hill Country Club. McIlroy posted a 3-under-par 67 on a practice round Monday, while a guest at the 95th PGA Championship Media Day. He was joined on his debut tour of the renowned Donald Ross layout by PGA of America president Ted Bishop and Oak Hill PGA head professional Craig Harmon.

The 24-year-old Northern Irishman arrived in Rochester having endured what has been a difficult first quarter of the season. The defending PGA champion and 2011 U.S. Open winner missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, lost in the opening round of the Match Play Championship and walked out of the second round at the Honda Classic in a display of utter frustration.

His game has since begun to slowly turn around, and although he has yet to win this year and has been replaced at No. 1 in the world rankings by Tiger Woods, McIlroy has four top-10 finishes in nine starts as the U.S. Open looms in two weeks at Merion in Ardmore, Pa.

The 95th PGA Championship will take place at Oak Hill Country Club from August 8-11. McIlroy will be part of a world-class field as Oak Hill welcomes the PGA Championship for the third time. During his practice round, the 24-year-old Northern Irishman chipped in for eagle on the 323-yard 14th hole.

"The real challenge here is taking advantage of your opportunities when they do come along," said McIlroy. "When I think of the PGA Championship, I think of golf courses like this."

"If I keep hitting the ball the way I know I can and start rolling some putts, hopefully I can get into the winner's circle," he said.

McIlroy's PGA Championship last year at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, S.C., was among a record field of 99 of the 100 world-ranked players.

"That is what the PGA Championship is all about," said McIlroy. "They give an exemption to the top-100 players in the world and it is the strongest field in golf. I think everyone knows that. And, it's great to be able to come out on top in a field like that."

McIlroy finished 57th at the Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio, over the weekend, where he was accompanied by his putting guru - former U.S. Ryder Cup Captain and two-time PGA champion, Dave Stockton.

McIlroy's Media Day visit featured an informal question-and-answer session, a "fireside chat" without the fireplace covering a variety of topics spanning his season frustrations, his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, his fondness for Oak Hill, and more.

Last week, McIlroy posted a 6-over 78 in the first round of the Memorial. That score represented the highest opening round of his PGA Tour career. He finished 57th at the event on a weekend when world No. 1 ranked Tiger Woods also was struggling.

A year after he topped the PGA Tour money list with more than $8 million in earnings and won four tournaments, McIlroy has not cashed a winner's check this season. He's finished in the top 10 in four of the nine events he's played. He currently sits 29th on the money list.

"It's been a little bit of a frustrating year," said McIlroy. "It seems like I take one step forward and then one step back. But it feels very close. It really does. I feel like it's one of these years where I'm waiting for one week where it all clicks together and then I can get on a run.

"I've had a couple of chances to win this year and I haven't taken them. I've had a few indifferent performances as well. I feel good going into the second major of the year. And there's still a lot of golf to be played."

He ranks 122 on Tour in the strokes gained putting. To put that into some perspective, Woods - who has won four times this season - is fifth in that same category.

Last year, before his PGA victory at Kiawah Island, McIlroy missed three of four cuts from mid-May to mid-June, including the U.S. Open. He finished 60th at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

But then, in a few short weeks, he was dominant in the PGA Championship, and captured the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship.

"I'm not too far away (right now), whereas last year at this point I was feeling like I didn't know whether I would ever play good again," McIlroy said. "It's just the way golf is - there are so many highs and lows. You just got to try to keep the lows as high as possible and try to keep it on an even keel."

McIlroy liked what he saw of Oak Hill Monday. He compared the golf course - with its relatively short length, mature trees, tight fairways and old-school charm - to Medinah, which hosted the 2012 Ryder Cup. He predicted that if conditions stayed similar to the relatively benign breezes and soft fairways and greens he encountered a record could fall. Jack Nicklaus' 6-under-par score of 274 has never been matched in the six other 72-hole stroke-play major tournaments that have been conducted on Oak Hill's East Course.

No discussion of upper-echelon players is complete without bringing up Tiger Woods, and McIlroy did his best to deflect any issues.

"People always like to talk about the rivalry and I always say he's got 76 or 77 PGA Tour wins. (It's actually 78.) I've got six. He's got 14 majors, I've got two. That's not much of a rivalry," McIlroy said. "I need to start winning a lot and win a few more majors before I can even start calling whatever this is a rivalry. I just want to go about my business, play well, try to win golf tournaments and let other people decide what that is."

By August, Oak Hill will consume the thoughts of McIlroy, who will try to become the rare golfer to repeat as PGA champion. Other than Tiger Woods (twice 1999-2000 and 2006-07), the previous back-to-back winner was Denny Shute (1936-37).

"Whenever you think about a golfer, you think about their wins, but you think about the major championships that they have. And I guess I got off to a good start with two pretty early in my career," McIlroy said. "And I want to just keep that going. Majors are the most important for every golfer. You get four chances a year at it. I've been lucky enough to take one of those chances the past couple of years. I still got three more chances this year to try to do the same thing. That's what I'm really concentrating on."

Media Day also featured McIlroy answering a few "rapid-fire" questions:

In Rochester, will you stay in a hotel or rent a house? I will rent a house.

Will you share the house with somebody? My dad will be here, my coach will be here.

Will you stay home and cook or go out to eat? Depends. Last year, we had a chef which was nice, and we stayed in. We might do the same thing.

How many days of the week will you work out at a local gym? Every day. I'll try to find a local gym here so if anyone has any good suggestions, I'm open to them.

What else will you do that week to relax? If someone suggests a book to me, I'll read it, but I'll maybe watch a good TV series. Last year, with the Olympics and stuff there was always something on TV to watch. I quite like watching (golf) highlights from the day just to see how other people play. Just always try to learn something.

Favorite golf course in the United States? Augusta National.

Favorite golf course outside the United States? St. Andrew's. So typical.

Do you have a tattoo? No.

Favorite hole in the U.S.? 13th at Augusta.

How old were you and where did you break par for the first time? 11 or 12 at my home golf club. It was a par-69 and I shot 68.

Best shot of your career? 10th hole at the U.S. Open on Sunday at Congressional.

One moment you'd like to have back? Tee shot at the 10th at Augusta.

Golf superstitions? I use two ball markers. One, my parents gave me. And one that (girlfriend) Caroline (Wozniacki) gave me.

Favorite movie? "Anchorman."

Favorite non-golf sporting event? Wimbledon

Favorite sports team? Manchester United

Favorite male athlete? (Indecision before settling on LeBron James, or Michael Phelps).

Favorite female athlete? I met (Olympic skier and Tiger Woods' girlfriend) Lindsey Vonn this weekend. (Lots of laughter.) No, it's Caroline Wozniacki.

How often do you go home to Northern Ireland? I went home for a day a couple weeks ago. That's the first time I'd been home in a year.

The above report is courtesy of the PGA of America. For more information, visit