Rory Rarin' to Go in Atlanta

Reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy is looking for another major title in this week's PGA Championship. The 22-year-old Northern Irishman has enjoyed good success in the final major of the season, with a pair of third-place finishes the past two years.

McIlroy believes that this year's course, the 7,467-yard par-70 Atlanta Athletic Club, fits his game. "I love how the PGA of America set the golf course up at this event," he told reporters Wednesday. "I think it really suits my game, puts a premium on ball-striking, and yeah, looking forward to get going."

Like Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, McIlroy has been embroiled in discussions about his caddie in recent weeks. In Woods' and Scott's case, the topic has been Steve Williams, while McIlroy was questioned by a TV reporter during last month's Irish Open about the "poor course management" of his looper, J.P. Fitzgerald.

McIlroy staunchly defended Fitzgerald then - telling reporter Jay Townsend via Twitter, "Shut up . . . you're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!" - and he did so again Wednesday in Atlanta. McIlroy said the relationship between him and Fitzgerald is "very important for me on and off the golf course. J.P. over the last three years has become a really good friend of mine, and he's been very loyal to me, and I feel as if I'm very loyal to him. It's great.

"Everyone's expectations of a caddie are different, what they mean to you and what you feel as if you need from them," McIlroy added. "You know, to be honest, I like J.P. because I can talk about things other than golf on the golf course in between shots, take my mind off it, which I like. There was a lot of comments after the Masters, whether he was the right man for me, and yeah, we both made mistakes. We didn't communicate as well with each other as we should have done. But we learned from that and we put it right at Congressional."

McIlroy and Fitzgerald indeed got it right at Congressional, as the young Ulsterman rolled to an eight-shot victory in the U.S. Open and set many records in the process.

Here's what else McIlroy had to say during his Q&A with the media in Atlanta on Wednesday.

MODERATOR: Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open Champion, is with us at the 93rd PGA Championship here at Atlanta Athletic Club. Rory, you played well in your first two PGA Championships, tying for third in both appearances. Comments about your chances this week and about the golf course here at Atlanta Athletic Club, please.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, this has been a big - a good tournament for me the last couple years. At Hazeltine I didn't really have a chance to win; Yang and Tiger were a little far ahead of the rest of the field. But I felt last year at Whistling Straits I had a very good chance to win. Didn't quite work out my way, but it was a great experience for me, and I love how the PGA of America set the golf course up at this event. I think it really suits my game, puts a premium on ball-striking, and yeah, looking forward to get going. This golf course is in phenomenal condition; fairways are probably the best I've ever seen. Greens are fast. You can't really get the ball above the hole. It'll be tricky from there.

But you know, most of all, it's a straightforward golf course. No real hidden - everything is out in front of you. You can make a few birdies around the turn and then you've sort of just got to hang on for dear life coming in. But it's going to be fun. It's going to be a great week.

Q. What do you think you'll be hitting into the 18th green, based on what you've done in practice, and how long does that hole play?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, yesterday I was slightly into the breeze and I hit a driver and a 5-iron, and I hit my drive a little bit up the right side. I think I could have taken it a little tighter to the water if I wanted to. But yeah, I mean, for most of the guys, it's a driver and a mid-iron to long iron. Depends. I played in the morning time, so it was still -- might get a little firmer. Might be a little bit of roll in the fairways, so it could play a little shorter.

Q. Does this golf course seem long to you for a par-70 or not?

RORY McILROY: No, not really. It doesn't play that long. The ball is going so far because it's so hot. I mean, you're hitting 7-irons nearly 200 yards. Sort of - on the card it looks like. What is it, just over 7,400, but the two par-5s are reachable. I think there's a couple of par-3s that give it a lot of length, 15, and there's a couple -- 4, as well, is it? Yeah, 4 is a pretty long par-3. Yeah, I mean, I don't think it plays the 7,400 that's on the card.

Q. Can you compare and contrast the characteristics of Congressional with Atlanta Athletic Club? Are there any real similarities, especially the greens perhaps? How do they differ from one another?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, the greens this week are definitely faster than they were at Congressional. In terms of the way the course set up, I like the way they set the course up here. They try to get a decent winning score, between 8- and 12-under par, something like that, so it's a fair test. It's a very fair test. The greens, again, there's one gradual slope on most of these greens from back to front, where maybe at Congressional the greens were sort of a bit more undulating.

Q. Judging by your Tweet, I take it you were there working out with Lee last week I think it was when he, I believe, dead-lifted a Volkswagen. I was wondering what you thought of that, and is there anybody working harder or wants one of these things worse than that guy right now, given that it seems like everybody under your umbrella or your stable has collected one.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, we were in the gym last Saturday and he dead-lifted 355 pounds, which was pretty impressive, very impressive. Yeah, he's working hard. He really wants it as bad as everyone else. He's maybe got a little more motivation and determination after what's happened the last couple of months with people close to him winning majors. You know, he's very focused. He's always very focused, and I am sure he'll give it another good run this week.

Q. In the last six majors, there's been six first-time major winners winning them. It used to be about one guy in these major events, and now it seems like it's a spin of the wheel every week. How would you describe going into one of these things when you look at the field and who's capable of winning?

RORY McILROY: I think there's a lot of guys capable of winning. You've seen that, as you said, over the past few majors. Yeah, but these things go in cycles. For 10 or 12 years, one player was very dominant in the majors. A couple of the other players maybe got three or four. Yeah, and at this point in time it seems that people are breaking through and winning majors. I think it's great for the game of golf, I really do.

Q. Just wonder how you think you're coping with life in the bubble since Congressional, and has the spotlight been perhaps even more intense than you had imagined it would be?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, when you dream of winning big tournaments as a kid and you dream of becoming a great golfer, all you think about is the golf, and you think about how great it is to hopefully be one of the best players in the world, and you never really think of the other side of it, the attention, the spotlight. It's just something that I'm still getting used to. But it's a nice position to be in. I'm not complaining (smiling).

Q. You mentioned the advantage of it being hot, with the ball going farther. The disadvantage is it's hot. How are you going to be preparing for the heat this week, and do you think that fatigue is going to play into the tournament late in the weekend?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I definitely think it'll be a factor. I think you're going to have to conserve all your energy and put them into the five hours that you're out on the golf course. Major championships are - they're long enough weeks anyway with everything that's going on, so to add in the extra heat, as well, you've just got to be very careful about your practice and make sure you don't overdo it leading into the tournament, and then when you're on the course just making sure you're taking plenty of fluids on board, yeah, keeping hydrated and hopefully keeping your concentration up for the time that you're out there.

Q. Does your generation want to see Tiger return to form only to be able to measure yourself against that guy you watched growing up?

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure if I can comment for all of my generation, but yeah, I mean, it would -- yeah, it would definitely be a challenge. It would definitely be something that you'd have to - if Tiger got back to his best -- I mean, he didn't give anyone else a chance ten years ago. So yeah, it would be great to measure yourself up against that. But on the other side of it, if he does get back to that, get back to the way he played, it gives us less of a chance to win. So sort of a double-edged sword.

Q. There's been a lot of chat about caddies and what role they play in players' success this week, but I'm just wondering in the success you've had over the last few months, how much of a role has your backroom team played; or your agent has been mentioned a lot lately. Which person has been the most decisive in what you've done over the last month or so, couple of months?

RORY McILROY: Um, me, I think, not to take anything away from anyone else. At the end of the day, the decisions that I make are with me. But yeah, everyone plays a part. You've got Chubby and Stuart and everyone at ISM and J.P. and Michael Bannon; my coach, Steve McGregor, my mom and dad, my whole support team. They all play a part. And yeah, it's hard to put a percentage on what role they play and how much they mean to you, but they all mean an awful lot, definitely.

Q. You're the man in control behind the wheel, as it were, coming down the last four holes this week, and I think you said something like hold on for dear life about those last four. Can you go through 15, 16, 17 and 18 and how decisive they might be in deciding the destiny of this championship?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, 15 has probably been the most talked-about hole this week. It's a very, very long par-3, and all you -- it looks more intimidating from the tee than it actually is down at the green. So all you're trying to do there is play to the front left of the green, take your two putts and make 3. If you make four 3s out there this week you're probably going to gain a couple of shots on the field. 16 is a long par-4 up the hill. You've got to get a good drive away. It's a very -- 14 and 16 are very slopey greens from back to front, so you've got to make sure that you try and keep the ball below the hole there with your second shot.

17 has got water on it again. That's probably the gentlest hole of the last four, I think. It's a mid iron in there, and as long as you strike it well and get it over the water, you should be okay. And then 18 is a really tough finishing hole. You can be brave with your tee shot, take it a little further up the left side and maybe leave yourself with a shorter shot in or play conservatively up the right and leave yourself a longer iron into the green. The green is very small for a long par-4. It is designed as a par-5, so it's a very challenging hole to hit a long iron into.

Q. You obviously took up for J.P. over the last month. How would you characterize a caddie's input into your game? What is that relationship like for you? How important is it?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's very important for me on and off the golf course. J.P. over the last three years has become a really good friend of mine, and he's been very loyal to me, and I feel as if I'm very loyal to him. It's great. Everyone's expectations of a caddie are different, what they mean to you and what you feel as if you need from them. You know, to be honest, I like J.P. because I can talk about things other than golf on the golf course in between shots, take my mind off it, which I like. There was a lot of comments after the Masters, whether he was the right man for me, and yeah, we both made mistakes. We didn't communicate as well with each other as we should have done. But we learned from that and we put it right at Congressional.

Q. The fans really responded to you at Congressional. You were really a favorite out there as you were doing what you did. I was wondering, did that kind of flip a switch for you as far as feeling comfortable playing in America, and have you had any sense this week that maybe it's going to be the same reaction?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I've always felt comfortable playing in America, but I think after the reaction firstly at the Masters, and then I got so many positive comments after that from people over here. And then after what happened at Congressional, yeah, I mean, I feel very comfortable in this country and playing on the types of golf courses over here. I feel as if I've got a great relationship with the fans, so I think there's a lot of things that go into it. Yeah, it was a decision of mine to try and come over here and play a bit more again partly because of the U.S. Open, and partly because I thought it was the right time to try it out again.

Q. We're five years out from the Olympics now, and I'm just trying to gauge your level of interest in it, and also, how you think the scheduling will work that year with the other majors and putting the Olympics in the mix.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, it's going to be tough scheduling-wise. Will it come between the Open and the PGA? Probably.

Q. I'm told they're going to slide the majors up, and then I think it's going to be right around this time.

RORY McILROY: All right. Again, it's five years away. It would be a huge honor to represent your country in the Olympics. It would be a great achievement to win a Gold Medal. But you know, as the Olympic Games come closer, I think the excitement will build for it and people will get into it more, and I think it's great for the game of golf that it's now become an Olympic sport. It will spread the game all over the world and make it recognized in different countries, which can only be good to spread the word about golf.

Q. How is your view of Tiger in terms of his place of the game changed from when you first turned pro or when you were a teenager until now, and do you think we've entered a new era in golf with you and other 20-somethings winning?

RORY McILROY: He's still the biggest attraction in the game of golf, so I don't think that has changed at all. The only thing that's changed is that he just isn't winning as much as he did back then. But that's not to say that he won't do it again. I don't think it's quite a new era yet until other guys start to win majors regularly like he did. I mean, it's very hard to do that anyway. But I still think -- he's only 35 years old. He's got another good ten years in him if he wants it.

Q. You and other players have talked about the intensity of major weeks, how it's different than others, and then you add the heat in this week and the fatigue. Can you explain specifically the kind of things that happen when that sort of mental fatigue and physical fatigue kick in?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, luckily for me, it hasn't happened much where I have become fatigued on the golf course. But yeah, I mean, it's tough. When it's like this and when it's hot, physically it's okay. I think physically most of the guys can cope with the heat. It's mentally, being out on the golf course for five hours Thursday through Sunday and trying to concentrate over every shot and make every shot count, I think that's the tough part. Yeah, you've just got to conserve energy, maybe walk a little slower between shots, just really take your time and just try and stay cool. There's not really much else you can do.

Q. Specifically when things happen, do you have the wrong club, shot selection, lose your focus at the last second and hit a poorly thought-out shot?

RORY McILROY: Any one of those can happen. It's not as if -- I mean, if you make a mistake you shouldn't be making the same mistake again, you know. But yeah, when you become a little fatigued mentally, little mistakes start to creep in, and you have to catch yourself doing them and try and put it right.

Q. Because of the confidence you got from last week, might we see a repeat of Congressional?

RORY McILROY: (Laughing) I'm not sure. I'm playing very well. I drove the ball great last week. I'm hitting it nicely. I felt as if I got a really good practice round in yesterday, got all the greens mapped out. As long as I can hole a few putts this week, I feel as if I'm in with a good chance.

MODERATOR: For the record, Rory tied for 6th at Bridgestone last week.

Q. Related to that, so much has happened in your life in the last couple months. Do you feel these last couple of weeks getting back to normal, as close to normal as your life is going to be?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, J.P. and I were talking last week in Akron. We actually felt as if we were back to work, back to doing what we were supposed to do. It was a little bit of a whirlwind after what happened at Congressional, but it's nice to feel like you're back out there and finally working hard again, focusing on trying to win golf tournaments.

Q. How would you describe what an achievement a Chubby Slam would be, or would it simply be coincidence?

RORY McILROY: I don't think you can call four major champions in the same year a coincidence. You know, the whole ISM family, we're all very comfortable with each other. We've seen one another win majors, starting with Louis last year and then Charl and myself, Darren. We probably motivate one another. It's a great group of guys because we all feel so close. If one of Chubby's guys were to win this week, it would be a great achievement for the company and personally for Chubby, from where he started 20 years ago or whatever, just over 20 years ago -- yeah, it would be great. I'm trying my best to complete the Chubby Slam, and I'm sure a lot of other guys are, as well.

Q. Do you know how much the Wanamaker Trophy weighs, and do you think you could dead-lift it?

RORY McILROY: I think I can lift it. I'm not sure how much it weighs.

MODERATOR: I'll look that up.

Q. It's about 29 pounds.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, 29 pounds. That's easy. That's nothing.

Q. You mentioned the -

RORY McILROY: I know what you're going to say, and the answer is, I still don't know.

MODERATOR: For the record, the Wanamaker Trophy weighs 27 pounds. Think you can handle that?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, that's fine.

Q. Following up on the Chubby question, he actually said he's embarrassed by this Chubby Slam talk -

RORY McILROY: No, he's not. (Raucous laughter.)

Q. I just wondered if you guys have been giving him any grief or if you're having fun with it. You commented on it a second ago, but has it been kind of an amazing thing for all of you to talk about?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think to be honest we're having a lot of fun about it. It would be great if ISM could take over Bermuda in October or -- November -- yeah, October. Yeah, we're having a lot of fun with it. I think it's funny. I don't know who came up with the name the Chubby Slam, but it's pretty funny and it would be great if it happened.

Q. When was the last time, if ever, that you've felt intimidated by an opponent on the golf course, and do you think post-Congressional that you're now beginning to have that effect on other players?

RORY McILROY: I don't think I've ever felt intimidated by anyone else on the golf course because they can't control what your ball does. They can't control how you swing it. They can't -- they should not be able to have any effect on you. Again, I don't think -- it's not as if I'm 6'4" and 15 stone; I'm not the most imposing figure in the game. So I don't think I would be able to intimidate anyone, either.

Q. How do you differ, this Rory to the Rory at Whistling Straits? Were you na´ve then? Obviously you didn't know what was around the corner.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I definitely feel as if I'm a better player. But you know, it was the same going into Whistling Straits. I felt after the third place finish at the Open, and I came off a good week at Akron last year, as well; I felt as if I had a good chance going into Whistling Straits. I was playing well. And all I was trying to do was win a golf tournament, and that's the exact same this year.

Q. And could this be the major that suits you best?

RORY McILROY: I think it could be, yeah. I think it's - yeah, I've always thought - thinking about, reflecting on the year last year and looking forward to this year, at the end of last season, I felt as if this and the Masters would probably be the two that suited me most.

Q. What's the biggest thing you've learned from the Masters to the U.S. Open to now, and I'm wondering if there are any specific moments or conversations that were important to that?

RORY McILROY: I think the biggest thing I learned from the Masters was just to be yourself. I felt as if I was a completely different person on that Sunday at Augusta, and I didn't need to be. I didn't need to change. I didn't need to be more focused. I didn't need to concentrate more. I learned from that, from the Masters going into Congressional. And then from Congressional until now it's been -- you learn more from your defeats than you do from your wins, so on the golf course I haven't learned maybe as much as I did at the Masters, but off the golf course I've learned a lot and how to deal with things. I'm still trying to deal with things, but trying to get used to a bit more attention. But as I said at the start, it's a great position to be in, and I'm here, and I'm just excited about trying to win my second major.

MODERATOR: 2011 U.S. Open champion, Rory McIlroy. Thanks very much.

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