Rory All Set for Tournament He 'Loves'

Rory McIlroy has returned to Akron, Ohio, for a tournament he confesses to have a huge affinity for. That event is the $8.5 million WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which starts Thursday at Firestone Country Club.

The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland is smitten with the course, a classic 1929 design that was updated in 1985 by Robert Trent Jones, and its exceptional practice facility. McIlroy needs to find a comfortable place since he hasn't played particularly well since he lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler in the Wells Fargo Championship in May.

That followed some fine results earlier in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (lost to Hunter Mahan in the 36-hole championship match); a victory in the Honda Classic (his third overall on the PGA Tour); a third place in WGC-Cadillac Championship. He also finished T-7 in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June.

In the majors, the Ulsterman's performance has been unexceptional: T-40 in the Masters; missed cut in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club (where he was the defending champion); and a T60 in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham.

Despite his recent travails, McIlroy, who still splits his time on the PGA and European tours, ranks seventh on the PGA Tour's money list with $3,183,992 and is still listed at No. 3 in the World Golf Ranking.

On Tuesday, McIlroy met with reporters and talked about why he likes Firestone and how he expects to return to good form this week. Here's what he had to say.

MODERATOR: Rory, welcome back to the Bridgestone Invitational. Just start us off with your thoughts going into this weekend and I suppose the next two months.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, start of a very busy stretch for basically all the guys that are playing in the States these two weeks, and then FedEx Cup, and then obviously the Ryder Cup, as well. Looking forward to it. It's a busy run, but it'll be nice to play well and get into a good bit of form and try and make a run. There's a few things to play for, obviously, two big weeks coming up, and then concentrate on the FedEx Cup and try and do well in that, and then obviously try to go into the Ryder Cup playing as well as possible. Yeah, good stretch coming up, and looking forward to it.

Q. You Tweeted that this is one of the best practice facilities on Tour. You've been hitting balls all day. What do you like about this place?

RORY McILROY: Everything. It's just a great place to come and do some work. I like the practice facility because everything is so close, as well, you've got the range, the short game area, the putting green, as well. The thing about the range, it just gives you nice targets to hit at. It's got good target greens and great turf, and it's just one of those ranges where I just feel like I could spend all day on.

Q. Two top-10s the last two years. Do you feel it's a course that suits your game?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I do. I love this event. I think it's one of the best events we play all year and definitely one of the best courses. And yeah, I think I had a ninth and a sixth the last couple years. I come in here with a couple good finishes behind me, and I feel like I'm hitting the ball pretty well. It's just about going out there and putting a score on the card, and if I can do that, then - it would be nice to play well here this week and go into the PGA with a good finish behind me.

Q. How frustrating has it been the last couple of months since the Wells Fargo was your last top five after you were a top-five machine there for 12 months. How frustrating has it been?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's been frustrating. Obviously it would be nice to tee it up every week and be in contention, but it's just not going to happen. It was happening there for a while, and it was nice, and my game just sort of went off for a few weeks. The last few weeks I've just been trying to get it back to where it was and feel like I'm definitely getting closer to that.

Q. Is there anything in particular that was off?

RORY McILROY: Not really. I think there was a few things. I needed to tweak a couple things in my swing. I just got a little bit out of position. And then from there, I've been hitting the ball great on the range, it's just about trying to bring that from the range onto the golf course and trying to separate the two, trying not to think so technical on the golf course when I've been working on stuff on the range. So just trying to go out there and see my shots and be a little more visual with that.

Q. On a sort of similar theme, when is the last time you walked off the course feeling as though you squeezed everything out of the round of golf?

RORY McILROY: Probably the first round of the Open. I felt like it could have been a bit better, but I felt like it was - after what happened on the 15th on that first day, to birdie two of the last three holes to shoot 67, that was great to come off the course feeling like that. That's the first time I've felt like that for a while. I mean, I even thrilled is bad - it's just I haven't played as well as I would have liked. But I still had a couple top 10s and still have played some good golf in there, just haven't played the golf that I've wanted to at the right times, obviously being the U.S. Open and the Open a couple weeks ago.

Q. How important is it from a personal point of view to be playing well these next two weeks, particularly going into the Ryder Cup?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'd love to just get into contention and just feel the buzz of having a chance to win a tournament coming down the back nine. It's something that is quite addictive and something that - it's a nice feeling, and I'd love to be able to do that at some point in the next few weeks. I feel like I'm doing enough work and I'm putting in the effort to try and do that.

Q. You have to peak so many times over these next couple of months, so many big events. How do you fit the FedEx in that in terms of your impetus, your incentive on that series?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's a big goal for me because after you play the PGA, I suppose the majors are over for the year, and you've got to really try and set yourself another goal. And for me that other goal is to try and finish as high in the FedEx Cup as possible, try and go into the Tour Championship in the top five and give myself a chance to win. After the PGA next week, my sights will be set on that, and then the closer the time comes to the Ryder Cup, it's something I'll start to think about, as well.

Q. Does the smaller field, the WGC aspect of it, does it give the week a little different flavor or feel as far as you're concerned, or does it feel just about the same as it feels in the full field?

RORY McILROY: No, it feels a little different. It's actually quite nice. The practice days are a little quieter. You feel like you can get a little bit more work done. It's nice knowing that you've got four - this is a huge tournament, and fortunately or unfortunately, whatever way you want to look at it, it comes the week before a major. Guys are looking to try and get their games in the best shape possible going into next week. But it's a great tournament to do that. It's a great tournament to prepare for the major next week, but it's also a tournament that you want to try and win because it's one of the biggest events we've got out here. There's a different feel, but it's great. You've got the best players in the world here, and you have to play your best to win.

Q. A quick follow on that, you spoke at some length about how good you felt about the practice area here. You guys pretty much only play at the best clubs everywhere. Is there that much of a difference between practice areas, and when you're out there, can you tell that you're getting more out of practice at a certain venue than you might at others?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I mean, there's some courses we go where the practice facilities aren't great, definitely not as good as they are here. I love hitting balls on this range. You've got great targets, great little short game area, the putting green is right there. That whole area you could just spend all day at and not get bored.

Q. Yesterday I was looking at pictures people took with their cell phones of you basically eating lunch, and it brought to mind a question, do you feel like you have any normalcy or privacy in your life?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think so. Whenever I'm not at a golf tournament, I sort of just try and keep it low key and not really - yeah, but that's just the way it is, I suppose. It's not a bad position to be in. I'd definitely rather have it this way than not.

Q. Take some getting used to?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it does, it does, but I feel like I've gotten used to it over the past year or so after winning the U.S. Open and everything. It did take a little bit of time to adjust to, but that's just part of life now.

Q. I wondered what you thought about what happened to Adam Scott at the Open? And we know what you went through at Augusta and how you bounced back so brilliantly at Congressional. What would you say to him this week?

RORY McILROY: I sent him a text straight after. I sort of felt like I knew how he was feeling. I just said to him, don't let the last four holes hide the fact that you played better than everyone else for the first 68. For me, as well, at Augusta, I had to really tell myself, look, for the first 63 holes you were better than everyone else. It's not my fault, it's not his fault that a golf tournament is 72 holes. If it was 68 holes, he would have won the tournament, or 69 holes. It just happens to be 72.

You have to - you just have to really believe in yourself and believe that for those 68 holes you were the best player that week. You know, it's tough. It's tough. It's a tough loss. At that moment in time you think it's the only chance you're ever going to get, and your whole world came crashing down. But in reality, Adam is such a great player that he's going to have plenty of chances to win more major championships. I said it at the time at the Masters that you need to lose before you can win. You need to learn how to handle that. I'm sure he knows what he's done wrong, and I'm sure that when he gets himself in that position again that he'll do the right thing.

Q. What have you seen from the Olympics so far, and what are your impressions of it? And what do you think about golf next time in the Olympics? How will it be different from the Ryder Cup?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I was in London last week and sort of got a taste of the Olympics. I went into Athletes Village one day, and it was the first ever time that I'd been close to the Olympics in any way, and it's completely different than anything I've ever been at before, just the scale of it, the size of it. Yeah, I've tried to keep track as much as I can. Obviously last week you could keep track an awful lot better, and it's hard to sort of stay on top of everything with the time change here. But it's - yeah, it's a great event. And golf being included in the Olympics I think is great for golf. Golf as a sport will be recognized in more countries and definitely participation levels will go up because of that. I think for golf it's great that it's in the Olympics.

Q. Will it feel different from the Ryder Cup, do you suppose?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure. It'll feel much different because at the end of the day you're still - you're still playing for yourself in a way, the way the format is at the minute.

Q. Were expectations unrealistic after you won the U.S. Open by as much as you did? And since you did win that, did that help you deal with the patch of missing cuts this year?

RORY McILROY: Yeah. I mean, expectations were definitely heightened after Congressional. Yeah, whether they were unrealistic or not, I'm not too sure. I mean, I have high expectations of myself, and I feel like for the 12 months after Congressional I've played some really good golf. I got to No.1 in the world at a couple of points and won three tournaments. So I feel like the golf I've played since has been pretty good. I'm not going to be able to play golf like I played at Congressional every week. I think everyone knows that. But it would be great to be able to play like that maybe a couple weeks a year.

But yeah, I don't think it's helped me in any way for how I've played over the past couple of months. It's nice to go to majors now and not be asked the question that a few other guys are asked, when are you going to win your first one, or do you feel like it's time. It's nice to just have that monkey off my back. But I think it's about time I'm trying to get back to win tournaments and trying to challenge for No.1 again.

Q. Considering how many guys have come from behind this year, does that almost make you realize you have to be on - like, for example, what happened to Adam. There's been some unbelievable comebacks on this Tour anyway.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, you look at - even from the start of the year, Kyle Stanley having that huge lead and then coming from six behind or whatever in Phoenix and winning. It happens. It's golf. It's hard to play with the lead. It's hard to keep yourself that focused and just concentrate on yourself and get the job done. It's like sometimes the guys coming up behind you feel like there's nothing to lose, so they just go for it. They can play a little bit freer than the guy who has the lead. But I still think that going out on a Sunday leading the tournament is still the best position to be in. If you give me a - if you said to me coming into this Sunday of this tournament would you rather be one ahead or one behind, I'd say be one ahead every day.

MODERATOR: Rory, thanks for joining us.

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