Rory Excited to Get Rolling Again

Rory McIlroy had another great season in 2012. The 23-year-old Northern Irishman followed up his 2011 U.S. Open victory with four titles last year, including his second major, the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island where he won by a record eight strokes.

Those performances led to him becoming solidly entrenched at the top spot in the world golf ranking, and a raft of honors, including the PGA Tour Player of the Year, Vardon Trophy, Byron Nelson Award and the European Tour's Race to Dubai title and its Player of the Year.

In 2012 McIlroy duplicated a feat set in 2011 by England's Luke Donald as the only players to win the money-list titles on both the PGA and European tours. He also had a pretty decent Ryder Cup at Medinah, going 3-2-0 and helping the Europeans retain the cup with a victory in Sunday's singles over Keegan Bradley.

After an eventful off-season, during which he signed a 10-year contract with Nike that some estimate to be worth $250 million, McIlroy will be teeing it up for the first time competitively in 2013 at the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

He'll be paired in the opening round of the European Tour event with No. 2-ranked Tiger Woods, another big Nike athlete, and Germany's Martin Kaymer, who's won the Abu Dhabi title three of the past five years.

On Tuesday, McIlroy met with reporters and discussed his wonderful 2012 season, the deal with Nike and his budding friendship with Woods. Here's what the likable Ulsterman had to tell the media during a wide-ranging conversation.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Rory, thanks, as always, for your time, welcome back Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. A fairly quiet week for you this week so far.

RORY McILROY: Not much going on, no.

MODERATOR: It's been a very busy week, just reflect on the couple of days you've had here.

RORY McILROY: It's been great. I'm really excited to get the 2013 season started. I feel like I've been in front you guys for about the last 12 hours. It's great. It's an exciting time and very happy with everything that's going on and just looking forward to getting out on the golf course and putting the new clubs and new equipment into play.

MODERATOR: Always a test in competitive action, I suppose, but you must be feeling quite confident with it.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure, everything's been going really well in practice and even when I'm on the course, everything's been great so hopefully that continues when I get a scorecard in my hand on Thursday.

MODERATOR: Will it be almost a relief to get playing?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it will, it will be nice, but even after this week I have another four weeks off. I feel like it was a busy end of the season so it will be nice to get a little bit of time off and really recharge the batteries before getting into the U.S. swing.

Q. Your thoughts being back in Abu Dhabi, a tournament you've all done extremely well but never quite won, your thoughts coming into it this week?

RORY McILROY: It's a place I have done well. I think one problem for me the last few years has been Martin Kaymer. He's played really well around here and won it a couple of times, three times I think and I always came up second best. It would be nice to go one better this week and obviously that's what I'm aiming for, but it's a great field and looks like the golf course is in great shape, as well, so you know, I've got good memories of this golf course, and I've played well around here in the past, so hopefully I can do that again this week.

Q. The unveiling last night of your sort of Nike signage was a pretty glitzy and glamorous affair but do you sometimes have to pinch yourself how far you've come in so few years?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure. If I had of sat and talked to you guys in September 2007 when I just turned pro at The Belfry, you know, I wouldn't have thought that I would be sitting here as a two time major champion No. 1 in the world and doing everything that I've done in the game already. It's been quite a lot faster than I thought it was going to happen. But you know, it just shows what you can do when you practice hard and you work hard and hopefully it's an inspiration to a lot of young kids out there that they can go and do the same thing.

Q. I just wonder if there's been banter on the range since the announcement about 'Money Bags' McIlroy?

RORY McILROY: Haven't been on the range yet, so no banter as of yet.

Q. Is there anything that you've got your eye on? I know the money's been coming your way anyway but is there anything that you're going to reward yourself with?

RORY McILROY: A win this week hopefully. That's about it. I just want to try to play as best as I can and everything else will take care of itself. But just really excited to be here this week and I'm excited to putt the include numbers in play and try and get a win.

Q. Great with the Nike, it was very nice, but can you tell how was it done, can you tell me behind the scenes stuff?

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure I can tell you. I don't know how much they want me to give away but all I can say is it was great fun to be a part of, and growing up watching some very iconic Nike adverts with different athletes, Wayne Rooney or Nadal or Cristiano Ronaldo, even like the Brazilian soccer team, playing football through the airport, those sort of things. So just to be a part of a Nike ad like that was a pretty cool thing for me to do.

Q. The dynamic's changed a little bit now, you're the favorite, you're No. 1, the betting line is all tilted your way and Tiger's No.2. I'm just wondering whether that dynamic makes any difference to you, whether you approach it differently, mentally, that sets things up at all differently or expectations, etc., etc.?

RORY McILROY: No, I mean, it doesn't really make a difference to me. I've always had high expectations of myself, and every time I come into a tournament, I want to feel like I have a chance to win. And if people think I have more of a chance to win than anyone else, that's fine, but I know that I'm going to have to play really good golf this week to have a chance and that's what I want to try and do. It's no different; I'll try and approach every week the same way.

Q. Regardless of the fact that the figures that you have been given vary wildly and probably we've got them wrong, but the point is, it's an awful lot of money. Are there any downsides, and so, what are they, to being given such a huge amount of money at such a young age.

RORY McILROY: I mean, again, I'm just concentrating on playing golf. You know, all the financial side and everything like that will take care of itself. I'm in it to try and win trophies and they are worth more to me than any contract is.

Q. There is a bit more to it than that. You know approximately, or you either know exactly how much it is or you only have a rough idea, but my point is, what downsides are there, what could go wrong with such a huge amount of money?

RORY McILROY: I don't know, bad investments or - (laughter) I really can't answer that. I don't know.

Q. I presume you didn't get too much sleep last night.

RORY McILROY: No, she likes playing three sets.

Q. Joking apart, how are you going to resist? If you're playing golf the next morning -

RORY McILROY: It's fine. I've done it plenty of weeks before. It's something that I'm used to. Even if I try to get some sleep and she is playing, I won't be able to sleep because all I'll be able to do is thinking about how she's doing and checking the phone and check the score. So I may as well watch it and put myself out of my misery a bit.

Q. Exactly how much lighter is your schedule this year compared to last year and what difference does that make in preparing for the majors?

RORY McILROY: It's going to be three events lighter, two individual events and less the Ryder Cup, so I think I played 25 weeks last year and this year I'll play 22 I think. It's not a big difference but just enough that I have enough breaks between tournaments that I feel like I'll be ready and rested for every tournament that I play.

Q. Two golf nerd questions. How is the ball you're playing now different than the old one, and you said that you're longer with the driver; is that the case with the irons and how much work do you have to do to dial in the distances still?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, this ball that I'm playing, I found it was much more stable in the wind. It didn't climb on me just as much, and I think we were talking about that last night. I spin the ball quite a lot, and I sort of need a ball that doesn't spin that much, especially when it's windy. It looks like it might be a bit breezy this week so that can help me.

I think with this technology and this golf ball with the resin core, making the core lighter, they are able to make the perimeter of it a little heavier which makes it a little more stable in the air, so that can only help. With the driver, I've picked up, you know, on average, two or three miles an hour more ball speed, sometimes, if I go after one I can get it up into the 180s, which I was never really able to do before. That's been a big help. And the spin rate is great, because when it hits the ground, it's still - it goes. So hopefully that will be obvious this week and I can hit enough fairways to take advantage of maybe a little more length.

Q. What about your distance control of the irons?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm probably getting one or two miles an hour more ball speed with the irons, too, but I guess you don't really - I mean, you hit balls on the range and you know how far you're hitting it but I guess you don't really know in tournament play because it feels like you hit it a little further in a tournament because the adrenaline is there and you're maybe pumped up a little more. But it's something that JP and I will sort of gauge on the golf course once we get going and once we get used to it a little more.

Q. As you build up towards the Masters, is this a more important preseason and early part to the golf season because of the switch and the new clubs, because normally, you're of the impression that you don't necessarily need that much range time and you can play on instincts, and then when you get to the majors on a different note, have you thought about your signature color for the final day, given that Tiger has already taken red?

RORY McILROY: Need to get to the final day first. I think this run up to the Masters this year is probably going to be a little better for me than the last couple. Even in 2011, it seemed to work pretty well for 63 holes. I took three weeks off before and did the same last year, but this year I'm playing -so I'll play in Houston and then take a week off and then play again, so you know, I'll have a little bit more competitive play going into the Masters, which I think will help me.

Q. I've been told by another Nike player that when Tiger plays in a tournament, they are not allowed to wear a red shirt on the last day; is that written into your contract?

RORY McILROY: I couldn't tell you. But I mean, I don't - I'm not sure. I mean, I've won in red before. I'm not saying that's the color I want to play in on the last day but -

Q. Want to check it?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I guess so. I'd rather just wear something that goes with green. (Laughter).

Q. I mean, any tournament, not just the Masters.

RORY McILROY: (Shrugs shoulders.)

Q. You were very strident last year in your support for Paul McGinley's Ryder Cup captaincy. Wonder if you're going to be the players meeting tonight expressing those views, and how you'll spend the time while the committee meeting goes on afterwards?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, you know, I have a very strong opinion about this. I really think Paul deserves it. He's been a great player and a great personality for the European Tour over the years, and a great captain. I played under him at the Seve Trophy in 2009 and I thought he did a great job. And from all the captains that I've played under, I think he was the best. He really took a lot from what Bernhard Langer did in 2004 at Oakland Hills and left no stone unturned and I think he will just approach it the right way. He's also been a vice captain in two Ryder Cups, and the two Ryder Cups I've played in, and he's been very influential in the team room and he's always had opinions and he's always had great ideas. I would love to see him be captain. I would be disappointed if he didn't get selected. Yeah, you know, it's.

Q. Is the players meeting a forum for you to air those views?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I guess so. It's a tough thing because it's between the decision is between the players' committee. You know, I'm not even sure if there's anyone sitting on the players' committee who is even going to make the Ryder Cup Team. So you've got - Paul Lawrie maybe, but you've got someone like myself and Ian Poulter and Luke Donald and Justin Rose have all voiced their opinion that they want Paul on the team. So I would like to think that our opinions are valuable to them and that they make the decision based on that.

MODERATOR: Just like to make the point, Paul Lawrie is not on the tournament committee anymore; Molinari is.

Q. Last night you said you would be disappointed if you ended 2013 without a major, trying to forecast your year, is there any of the four majors you think you might stand a stronger chance more than the others, and I assume you would take any of the four but is there any one in particular that you think you might have a chance better than the other three?

RORY McILROY: Not particularly. I know the U.S. Open that I won was a little different than others, but I always thought that the U.S. Open might have been the one that I struggled to win just because of the way the source sets up, usually, by the USGA. This year, you have the Masters, as always at Augusta, and you have Merion which I've never played before, I've never played before and Oak Hill I've never played before. I guess not having any experience around those golf courses, I couldn't really tell you. As you said, I would take any of the four right now, I'm not picky.

Q. Tiger was just in here talking about your relationship with the two of you and how it started last year when you played the nine hole practice round, could you talk about how it's grown in the last year?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, we have spent more time together, which started here last year, just because we have been paired in tournaments; and if not been paired, been in tee times that are close to each other and seen each other on the range a lot or whatever. It's been great; it's been great to get to know him. Before this time last year, we would say hello in passing but not really anything else. I think once Tiger sort of gets to know you and trusts you, I guess, and let's you in, then it's great. We get on really well. We share the same interests. We are both big sports fans and that's sort of the bulk of our conversations is about sports.

It's great to just spend time with him and pick his brain about a few things if I feel I need to, but it's a relationship that's definitely based on respect, because you know, he's been a huge hero of mine growing up and he's done some incredible things in golf. I think he respects me for what I've done on the golf course, too. So it's good.

Q. I just wanted to get kind of your generic thoughts about The Desert Swing; other than those events at the very end of the European Tour schedule, these three events are probably the strongest in success on the European Tour and with fields that match or are superior to the U.S. Tour this time of year.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I guess it's a perfect - I always thought it was a perfect place to start the year, because I would always come to Dubai just after the new year and start to practice. The weather is always good and the facilities are great. I just think it's a great place to start the season. You play three great golf courses, especially here and Dubai are really good golf courses. Qatar can get a little windy from time to time. I think the guys really enjoy it. It's a great three week stretch and it's a great way to start the year.

Q. You just said it again, you've said many times that you idolised Tiger coming up. I'm just curious how you feel his game, when you play with him now and see him up close, how does his game match up with that game that you saw from afar as you were coming up?

RORY McILROY: I think it's very similar. He's had to change a few things because of injury and his swing shape has definitely changed over the past few years from Butch to Hank to Sean now. But you know, he's still - I was saying in another interview before this, you can really see, he's just a really good pro. He gets his way around the golf course and he hits really solid shots. He doesn't take too much on when he doesn't have to, but when he needs to, he can. You know, he can look like he plays average and still shoot 67, which is a sign of a really good player. So yeah, you know, he's really experienced and he knows how to get his ball around the golf course, and he still hits some unbelievably impressive shots. He's still got it.

Q. What have you picked Tiger's brain about, you just mentioned a second ago. And when the two of you are chatting; there part of you that's guarded how much you open up to Tiger, and other way around, because you're both rivals at the end of the day?

RORY McILROY: I'll ask him just about time management and practice and how he likes to do things and the structure and the setup around him. You know, because there was at one point last year, I felt like I wasn't getting the time that I needed to go and do my practice. There were so many commitments and everything else, because he has to deal with that more than anything else, so I thought it was good to chat to him about that sort of stuff. But you know, apart from that, it's just general chat, whether it's about - we were talking about Ryder Cup captain out there, talking about sports or talking about something else.

Q. The media just grilled Tiger about you and you're getting grilled about Tiger; what would your thoughts be on other youngsters like Louis and Rosey, and you also talked about respect -

RORY McILROY: For sure. Justin has had a great year. He was a European Tour Order of Merit winner back in the late 2000s, 2007 or 2008 I think and Louie is coming off a win last week, playing well, up to four in the world. Exactly, it's a good point. Golf isn't just about Tiger and I; there's a lot of great players out there that deserve to be shown a little bit of respect and deserve to be under the spotlight, too. So I think golf's in great shape at the minute. There's a lot of great players and a lot of guys playing well and I think that's why 2013 is going to be a very exciting season.

Q. You mentioned in the past your struggles on U.S. Open style courses and the like, like Sawgrass. Is that the area where you feel you might make the biggest improvement this year, and is it an experience thing?

RORY McILROY: I think it is more of an experience thing than anything else. I guess going back to courses like that, as well, you sort of figure them out, or hopefully figure them out (laughs). I've struggled an fiddly golf courses, the only exception being Hong Kong where I've loved and played well but fiddly golf courses are something that I could get better at and I could improve at. So the likes of Sawgrass or Wentworth or a U.S. Open style Merion or something like that are places that I definitely think I can improve.

Q. Can you just talk about your development over the last 12 months, maybe the difference between you now and you in Abu Dhabi a year ago?

RORY McILROY: I'd like to think that I'm a better player, I'm a smarter player. You know, 12 months on, you gain experience from the different things on and off the golf course. That's the thing about me, I try to learn every time I do something; if it's good or bad, try to learn from my mistakes and move on. You know, I think it would be disappointing if I didn't think I was a wiser person sitting here now than I was 12 months ago.

Q. You said you talked a lot about sports with Tiger; did you ever try any other sports than golf with him and what would happen if you go to the tennis court?

RORY McILROY: I haven't tried to play any other sports with him. I'm not sure what his tennis game is like but I'm sure mine's not great, so I think we'd probably have a great match, maybe. But yeah, I've played a little bit of soccer growing up - football, soccer - I can't believe I just said soccer, oh, my God (grimacing). Football. Football. Sorry. (Laughter).

Q. Can you talk about your dad sort of running the foundation, how pleased you must be about that?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's great. Obviously this six bags project we've started up with I think is a great initiative to start off the foundation, six different charities, the first six tournaments I play this year, starting with one for Northern Ireland locally, the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for children. I think with all the talk and the media about this new deal and everything, I just thought it was a good time to show that I'm giving back, too, and it's not just all about money, you know. So it's great to set up the Rory Foundation and hopefully we can do some great things in the future beyond the six bags project we've started up.

Q. Do you have still have the watch company as a sponsor?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I do, I still have a partnership with Audemars Piguet, yeah.

Q. Anything plans with UNICEF?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, we are planning another trip to Haiti before the Masters this year. That will be nice to go down there. I think they have done a lot of great things down there since the last time I was there in 2011 so it will be great to go back.

Q. You mentioned last night in the Nike press conference that you prefer using the 20XIx balls because they are sort of stable in windy conditions; do you think they will be able to combat the winds we've had in the last couple of days?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I definitely hope so. I practiced in Florida before Christmas and it was quite windy there and I felt like the flight I was getting in the new golf ball was really good and could really help me in windy conditions, whether it be here this week or somewhere like an Open Championship where you really have to control your ball flight. You know, hopefully you can see the advantages of that this week.

MODERATOR: Rory, thanks, as always, good luck this week.

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