McIroy Enjoying Relative Anonymity

Unlike last year, after Rory McIroy electrified the golf world with an eight-shot win the U.S. Open at Congressional and much was expected of him at the following major, the Open Championship, the expectations and attention levels are a bit lower in 2012 as the 23-year-old Northern Irishman heads into Thursday's first round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

"Obviously the hype and everything was so big last year, as well, that, yeah, it maybe had a little bit to do with it, but at the end of the day I just didn't play well enough to figure in the tournament," he said Tuesday.

Instead of earning his straight major last year at Royal St. George's Golf Club, McIroy looked on as his mentor and fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke returned to Northern Ireland with the Claret Jug.

As for this year, McIroy is enjoying the relative solitude while all the attention is being directed at players like Tiger Woods - in search of his fourth British Open title, and No. 1-ranked Luke Donald, who's seeking his first victory in a Grand Slam event.

"It's been great," McIlroy said about his position out of the limelight during a Q&A with reporters. "It's been lovely just going about my business - definitely not the madness that was going on last year.

"It's nice. I've tried to keep it as low-key as possible and feel like I've done that pretty well. Obviously people still come up and want photos and stuff, but the commotion's definitely not as bad. The hype [of last year] and everything was so big that it maybe had a little bit to do with it, but at the end of the day I just didn't play well enough to figure in the tournament."

Here's what else McIlroy, who's paired in the first round with reigning PGA champion Keegan Bradley and 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen, had to tell the media on Tuesday.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined by world No. 2, Rory McIlroy. Thanks for joining us, Rory. How are you preparations going into this week and what are your expectations?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, preparation has gone well. I played the course Thursday and Friday last week, got two really good looks at it. Went back out Monday and played 18 holes, and played another nine today. Got a few good looks at the place and feel like I know what I'm doing out there now and just looking forward to the week. I'm excited to get started. It will just be nice to get going on Thursday, Thursday afternoon, because I feel like I've sort of been waiting for it for almost a week now. I'm just excited to get going.

Q. How different is the setup to when you played Lytham Trophy?

RORY McILROY: It's a little longer off the tee. There's a few new tee boxes. Obviously turning 6 into a par 4 is going to make a big difference to the scoring. It's just set up a lot tougher. The rough is obviously up. There's been a lot of growth because there's been a lot of rain the last few weeks. You're just going to have to really do a good job of trying to keep it out of the fairway bunkers and keeping it out of the rough. That's going to be the main thing this week.

Q. Is there one hole in particular?

RORY McILROY: The only one really that I find a lot different is the 10th, just because of that new tee box on 10. With the forward tee box you usually have a go for the green or you get it up somewhere close. It just makes that hole play completely different with that back tee box.

Q. Tiger said he's had to change his mindset when starting with a par 3. Would you agree you have to adapt psychologically at all?

RORY McILROY: No, not particularly. I mean, I think it's not a bad thing because you've got a perfect lie. It's just like if you start on a par 4 and you hit the fairway and then obviously that's what it's like. You're just playing from a perfect lie onto the green. So it's almost like playing the second shot to a par 4. I don't think I'd approach it any differently.

Q. Could you contrast the madness of your arrival to this tournament last year with this year? What a difference a year has made.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's been great. It's been lovely just going about my business. No one really sort of - it's been nice. It's been nice to sort of prepare and definitely not the madness that was going on last year. It's nice. I've tried to keep it as low key as possible and just go out and go about my business and felt like I've done that pretty well.

Q. Have you been out in the town, as well?

RORY McILROY: I haven't really been. I went for dinner on Sunday night. And, yeah, obviously people still come up and want photos and stuff. But the commotion sort of definitely not as bad as what it was this time last year.

Q. You said recently that you'd taken your eye off the ball. Is your eye back on the ball now?

RORY McILROY: I think so, yeah.

Q. Are there any other distractions?

RORY McILROY: There's never been any distractions.

Q. Similar question to Derek's in a way. I remember speaking to Graeme McDowell at Sandwich last year, and he's always had a difficult time since the U.S. Open. And it's great to see him back in good form. Have you discussed with him how you focus when the attention finally moves on, and do you learn from him that he got his game going again and you will, too?

RORY McILROY: I got the world No.1 after I won a major, so I don't think my game has completely went off. So everyone has bad spells and I had a couple of bad weeks where I didn't play so well. But it's just a little blip in the radar and I feel like I'm swinging well again. And feel like this will be a great week to play well.

Q. Just to follow up, I saw on Twitter you went and trained with Ulster Rugby Club. Was that good to get back among the great love of your life?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was actually - I went down with one of my good friends, Darren Cave. He's got a couple of weeks off until he starts preseason again. He said he wanted to do something. And I said, yeah, I'll go into the gym with you. It's nice to go back and see the boys. I don't get to see them as much anymore, so it is nice.

Q. You talked of the madness at Sandwich last year. In hindsight, in retrospect, do you think that perhaps affected your performance at The Open?

RORY McILROY: A little bit. I think taking three weeks off before going in was something to do with it. I did plan on playing the French Open, but just felt like to prepare properly for this event I had to just pull it and just get everything out of the way because obviously there were so many requests coming in and so many things to do. I knew if I went to the French Open my mind wouldn't be fully on it, so that's why I didn't go in the end. But in hindsight it would have been going good to get that extra competitive week. It would have been something good to do. Obviously the hype and everything was so big last year, as well, that, yeah, it maybe had a little bit to do with it, but at the end of the day I just didn't play well enough to figure in the tournament.

Q. Given your form this year and even Tiger's form this year where he's been winning and the next week missed the cut or tied for 40th or whatever, does it make you appreciate the consistency that he was able to achieve, like six wins in a row three times in his career?

RORY McILROY: Yeah. It's an unbelievable feat, even just to win two weeks in a row or to contend, because it takes a lot out of you even if you're not winning but you're up there every week. You're in contention every week, and you're grinding it out and trying to win. Mentally that takes a lot out of you. And it takes a lot more out of you than if you're finishing 40th or missing the cut or whatever. Yeah, to play like that over such a prolonged period of time was very impressive.

Q. I saw that you went to approach Tiger on the range and had a quick talk. What were you guys talking about over there?

RORY McILROY: I just went over to congratulate him on his win at Congressional.

Q. In the past people approaching Tiger Woods on the range wouldn't have happened very often. The fact that you're doing that now, does it say a lot about how things have changed with him or is it more about you feel that your stature, you can just go and shoot the breeze with him?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I feel like Tiger and I have a good relationship and a relationship that's developed over the last couple of years. If a guy wins or a guy does well, you go up and congratulate them just to say "well done" or whatever. So I'd never have any second thoughts about doing that with any of the guys, whether with Tiger or anyone else that's just won.

Q. Has that always been the case with him?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, pretty much. The more I've gotten to know him, the more you feel comfortable around him, but I think that's the indication with anyone, really. The more you get to know them, the more comfortable you are.

Q. This is deemed to be a shot maker's course, if you look at the past champions. And have you ever seen any footage of when Seve beat Nick Price here in '89 and shot the 65 in the last round? Could you appreciate how great a round that was?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, to be honest I haven't really seen any of it. I've seen a few bits and pieces. I saw the chip to the last. And then was it '79 or something, when he hit it out of the car park?

Q. That was impressive.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, that's only the real things I remember about the Opens that Seve won here. I don't remember - I've just heard when Lehman won it was very hard and it was firm and it was fast. And I think when Duval won, as well, it was a bit like that. But it looks like we're going to get the course playing a little differently this week.

Q. As far as being a shot maker's course where you've got to maneuver it around these bunkers?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, you definitely have to. But the thing I like about this become is that it gives you a lot of definition. You have targets to hit at and you've got targets to work it off, and it's one of the great things about this course.

Q. There was a unique set of circumstances around Sandwich last year, and there was some frustration on your part at the end of it. And you suggested because it's so unique it wasn't necessarily worth adapting your game to suit the conditions because you don't meet them that often. I wonder how you feel about that a year on with this event?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, those comments were just pure frustration with - yeah, I mean, having really high expectations going into it, coming off a major win. Really wanting to play well, get into contention and not doing that. And blaming the weather, blaming the draw, blaming my luck, basically. And that was just frustration. Looking back on it a year later, it's - as I said, I just didn't play well enough to get into contention and didn't handle the conditions as best as I could have. As I said in Ireland, that's something that I'm trying to do more of and felt like I did that. And to some degree at Portrush felt like I played well in the bad conditions. And if it's like that again this week, you're just going to have to knuckle down and focus and keep fighting and stay tough and try and shoot a score in bad conditions.

Q. And having seen the course over the last few days, is this an opportunity to show that you can play a course - a tight course in tough conditions like this?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, definitely. I feel like I'm hitting the ball great. I think it's the best I've swung the club all year. I've done a lot of work on that. As I said, it's keeping the ball in play, keeping it out of the bunkers and out of the rough. Not only if I can do that, but if anyone can do that in this field, they've got a great chance.

Q. Have you tried the Jack Nicklaus one ball tip yet?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I did. On Sunday I played the back nine - Sunday? Yeah, Sunday played the last 13 holes with one ball, and before that on Friday afternoon I played the back nine with one ball. And the last couple of days I've tried to play the last four holes with one ball just to try it. Had a couple of bets with Michael and my dad and JP, trying to shoot a score for the last few holes.

Q. What did you score?

RORY McILROY: Friday I shot 4 under on the back nine with one ball, which was good. Yesterday my target was to shoot 1 under for the last four holes, and I did that, so won a coffee off JP. And today didn't go so well, shot 1 over for the last four holes.

Q. Good advice?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, definitely good advice, especially if you haven't played a tournament in a week or two, it gets you back into that competitive frame of mind. You're seeing shots and focusing on targets. Because sometimes when you're at a practice round you're just trying to see the course, and sometimes you're just going through the motions, and it's good to really focus out there and try and shoot a few scores.

Q. I think it would be fair to say that your game is naturally aggressive. Are you able to curb that here? Are you learning to curb that natural approach?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think it's just knowing the times when to be aggressive and when not to be. I think with the way the conditions are at the minute with the greens being slightly softer, there are more chances out there to be aggressive. But, yeah, I mean you're going to have to be very smart off the tees here and just sort of plot your way around, just to navigate your way through all these fairway bunkers. Like I said, if you can do that put your ball in the fairway, you do have chances to be aggressive going into some of the greens. So that's, as I said, the whole key this week will just be trying to drive it on the fairway.

Q. In practice last week with Graeme, Graeme likes to thread the ball, I think the course suited him there. Were you deciding to try to blast him off the course?

RORY McILROY: No, not at all. I've always - so the second hole you're trying to hit it over the first set of traps but leave it short of the second. Third hole, the same, you've got a trap up there at 311, you're trying to hit it past the ones on the right but leave it short of that. There's areas to hit it into on this golf course, and that's all you have to try and focus on. I tried I've hit driver on 10 and 16 this week, just to see what happens. And it's just it's not worth it, unless you really have to. It's just definitely not worth it.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much. Good luck, Rory.

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