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March 7, 2011

Rory McIlroy

LEE PATTERSON: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to welcome you to today's conference call with Rory McIlroy, who will be defending his Wells Fargo championship title May 2 through 8. As you all may remember, Rory recorded rounds of 72-73-66, and closed with a course record 62 for a 15-under par 273 total. His incredible performance on the weekend last year was good enough for a four-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson. We want to thank you again for spending some time with us today.
RORY McILROY: No problem.
LEE PATTERSON: Perhaps you might reflect on what winning the Wells Fargo Championship has meant to you for the past ten months.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, it was a huge step forward in my career. To win a golf tournament of that stature and to win it on a golf course of that nature, as well, you know, it was big for me. I was only a couple of shots away from missing the cut. You know, I think it came at the right time last year, as well. I wasn't really playing that great leading up to the tournament. I had just missed the cut in the Masters, and it was definitely a welcome return to form.
LEE PATTERSON: Can you take us back to that putt on 18 Sunday and how it felt to finish off what was wildly regarded as one of the best stretches of golf we saw by an individual all of last year?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I knew a 4 was going to be good enough to win, and I played a great second shot, played it very conservatively just to the middle of the green, and really all I was looking to do was two-putt, get that ball up around within six feet of the hole. My pace was so good that week, and I saw the line and hit it. I wasn't expecting it to go in. I wasn't really -- to be honest, I wasn't really trying to hole it, I was just trying to get it up there somewhere close. But as soon as it fell in, it was just a great moment.
It's one of the -- I think it's one of the best weeks on Tour. The crowds that come out that week are fantastic. Yeah, I mean, it was definitely the best moment of my career so far.

Q. We were talking the other day, you were talking about having to make the eagle on the back nine there Friday afternoon just to make the cut. Do you remember your thoughts when you were back on that back nine or your final nine on Friday? Were you thinking about what am I going to do this weekend?
RORY McILROY: One thing I was thinking about was changing my putter. No, I mean, when you're on the cut line, you're always trying hard just to make a couple of birdies. It was the same as -- even last week at the Honda, I was on the cut line with five to go and played the last five holes in 2-under. Same thing, you're just trying to play smart golf, trying to make a couple of birdies on the way in and just try and play yourself into the weekend.
I knew I had a couple of chances on that back nine. The 5th hole is a par-5 and then 7 is a par-5 and 8 is a short par-4, so I knew I had a couple of chances to make some birdies to try and get myself back into it to play the weekend. But yeah, any time that you're on the cut line, all you're thinking about is just trying to play the best you can just so you can make it into the weekend and give yourself a chance.
You know, from that position last year, I've realized that even if you do just make the cut on the number going into the weekend, you still have a realistic chance to win.

Q. You didn't make any technical changes or anything that suddenly clicked into your swing that hadn't been there before or anything like that?
RORY McILROY: No, I mean, I felt as if I was hitting it well, I just wasn't scoring that good. As I said, I put a different putter in my bag for that weekend, which is the same putter I'm still using. Anyway, it worked very well.

Q. Can you just sort of address the state of your game right now, where you are at this very moment?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I actually feel as if my game is in pretty good shape. The last couple of weeks haven't been exactly what I've wanted, going out in the second round of the Match Play and finishing in the 60s or whatever last week at the Honda, but I feel like 75, 80 percent of my game is really good, it's just the other 20 I need to work on. I felt like last week wasn't -- where I finished wasn't a fair reflection of how I played.
I'm feeling pretty positive about my game. I think I'm still working on the right things and just trying to make sure that my game is in the best possible shape for the 7th of April when the Masters starts.

Q. If you had to analyze that 20 to 25 percent of your game that you have to work on, what would those be?
RORY McILROY: I think to be honest, I really need to take advantage of my driving. I've been driving the ball great all year. I've got longer, and I feel as if I'm hitting enough fairways, and sometimes I don't take advantage of that. Maybe by playing the wrong shot at the wrong time or being a little bit too aggressive or whatever, so just trying to myself more chances and set myself up for more opportunities whenever I do drive it in the fairway, and I need to take advantage of that, I think.

Q. Sounds like a little bit more course management than technique?
RORY McILROY: Oh, definitely. I worked on the technical side of my game at the start of the season, and I've got my swing basically where I want it to be. It feels really good. I can shape the ball both ways. It's just a matter of making the right decisions on the golf course.

Q. Given Tiger's decline, he's won four green jackets, does the Masters seem to you more wide open than it's been in years?
RORY McILROY: No, I don't think so. I think the same guys always play well there. You know, Phil seems to find a way to play Augusta. He's done great there the last few years. Even Tiger comes back after having nine or ten months off, whatever it was from the game, and finishes fourth. The usual guys seem to step up at Augusta and play well.
And I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of the guys that have only played there a couple of times; it takes a while to learn the golf course and it takes a while to feel 100 percent comfortable on it. Of course the Masters is always going to be a tournament that everyone in the field feels that they can win, but you know, I think you'll still see the usual suspects up there on Sunday.

Q. Can you tell us what you've learned playing Augusta so far and maybe what you still need to learn to feel comfortable and like you can win there?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, last year was a -- I've played stretches at Augusta very well. I mean, in 2009 I think I finished the last ten holes in 6-under on the last day, so I mean, there's been stretches where I've played some really good golf there. But I just feel that sometimes -- because you don't want to miss it on the wrong side at Augusta, you can become quite tentative with your iron play. I felt like I was a little bit like that last year instead of just picking your targets and being aggressive with them like you usually are on any other golf course, because the penalty for missing the ball in the wrong spot at Augusta is definitely magnified compared to some other courses around the world.
It's funny, I've talked to Phil about this before, obviously just trying to pick his brain, but how he plays Augusta, and he feels -- he likes it so much because he says he can be so imperfect. He has such a great wedge game and such a great short game that he feels like if he misses it on some holes, he still has the short game to get it up-and-down compared to maybe 70 percent of the field that might not be able to play some of the shots that he can play. It seems like he goes out at Augusta and sort of plays sort of nearly carefree. Obviously you can't play carefree, but he definitely is very aggressive and takes on some shots and feels like he has the short game to get away with it sometimes if he doesn't quite hit the right shot.

Q. That was Phil you were talking about?

Q. Along the lines of Phil and that 6-iron he hit through the trees, I'd just be curious what you consider to be the riskiest shot you ever took, how it turned out and what you were thinking of? Meaningful, not playing back home with your dad.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, yeah, riskiest shot, I'm trying to think. Well, definitely not in contention on Sunday at Augusta with a 6-iron from 210 yards out of trees. Let me see, I'm trying to think.

Q. What about 15 at Quail last year?
RORY McILROY: It wasn't that -- it was a straightforward shot from the middle of the fairway, 207 yards up the hill. I'm trying to think where I've -- yeah, I mean, going back to that Sunday at Quail Hollow, trying to drive the green at 14 might have been quite risky in the circumstances. I'm sorry, I'm struggling to think of anything.

Q. Let me just go to 14 for a minute because it's clearly a risk-reward shot. When you're standing over it, how much of your brain is thinking about green and how much of it is thinking about trouble, don't-screw-this-up-type thing?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think you've got to find a balance between obviously trying to make the ball finish where you want it to, but if you're going to miss it on either side, you're going to miss it on the right side. You try and take the trouble out of play. Like on 14 that day, I didn't say to myself, don't miss it left, but you're sort of thinking to yourself, if you're going to miss this, miss it right, and that's what I did, went into one of those greenside bunkers and was able to get it up-and-down.
I think that's the thing about risk and reward holes; if you're thinking about going for it, you've always got to weigh up where the best place to miss it is if you don't quite hit the shot that you want to.

Q. Is Quail Hollow the type of golf course that as you're playing up to the final four holes you're thinking a little about those four, or is it the type of golf course you'd better not be doing that or you're in trouble early and don't even have a chance on those final four?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think it's a golf course that -- I mean, I think you have to really make your score by the 16th tee box because realistically you're not really going to pick up many shots over that stretch of holes on the way -- during the week. If you can -- if you play those holes even a couple over for the week, you're not doing too badly at all.

Q. We probably think of you as older than you actually are, but as you've sort of grown into your career, how much do you rely on guys like Graeme or somebody else to point you how to do things, and how much do you sort of blaze your own trail?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, with everything you have to trust yourself and rely on your own instincts, but there are times when a little bit of advice here and there doesn't hurt. I mean, I have a lot -- especially now I have a lot of conversations with Graeme about course management. I feel like the way he gets himself around the golf course is very impressive. I played a practice round with him last week and was having conversations about course management, sort of how he thinks around the golf course. Obviously he's a close friend, but that's why I like playing with him quite a lot, because his game is so much different than mine, and I feel like if I could take a little bit of his game and sort of embed it into my game a little bit, it would help.
Yeah, it's -- yeah, there's times where you feel like if you can ask a couple of questions it might help you, and other times if you feel like you're doing the right things, you just do your own thing and get on with it.

Q. What do you want from his game if you could take it?
RORY McILROY: I think his strategy is always very good, his course management, his decision making, basically his whole thought process before golf shots, weighing up the different options, really making the right decisions. Sometimes I'm a little bit too instinctive and just go for the first shot that comes into my head or the first shot that I sort of see. I think his whole thought process before he hits a golf shot is very good. He always weighs up his options and makes sure he plays the right shot.

Q. If you go back to pre-Ryder Cup last year, there's been a couple of comments you've made about Tiger, and I don't think anyone would disagree with anything you've said, yet it seems to have caused somewhat of a stir. Why do you think that is?
RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. I think -- obviously I've said things that some people agree with and some people disagree with. I think the way I've said it mightn't have been -- that could have been -- I might have said things a little more straight to the point. I was actually watching The Golf Channel last week, and there was an interview with Sean Foley, and he said something that really sort of -- I sort of thought, you know, that's what I was trying to say but it didn't really come out that way. He said, Tiger has spoiled us for 10 or 15 years with the golf that he's played, and some -- he doesn't know if we're ever going to see that again, and no one knows, and that's basically what I'm trying to say. Tiger was so good back then, people forget how good he was, and we expect him to be -- perform like that all the time. It's probably just not humanly possible.

Q. There was a piece you did for golf.com. Was that like a byline piece you did or an interview? What was that supposed to be?
RORY McILROY: Well, I did it as an interview. Yeah, I mean, I was quite surprised whenever I saw it in print as a sort of first-person essay. That wasn't how I thought it was going to come out.

Q. Hmm, so that wasn't supposed to have your name on it?
RORY McILROY: No, I mean, it was supposed to be an interview -- I think it was supposed to be a preview for the Masters was it?
STUART CAGE: Yeah, it was a preview for the Masters and a question and answer thing, and it came out as a first person, which wasn't how it was portrayed to us. What came out there was not as intended, and I don't think the interview would have been the same if you would have seen the questions. From the management side of stuff, I was disappointed in that. But you know, personally I don't think -- what Rory said is like he's just saying now, he's not trying to say anything derogatory towards Tiger, it's just plain and simple, Tiger is not playing as good as he was ten years ago. But that was unbelievable golf in 2000 and may not ever, ever be seen again from any player in history. It's just been taken the wrong way from my point of view.
I mean, it's not great, and really we don't -- from my point of view, we don't really want to be getting deep into the Tiger Woods scenario at all in this one, gentlemen, if you don't mind.

Q. Rory, just to clarify, everything you said about Quail and your own game, I can't just put your name on this?
STUART CAGE: We'll read it first, please, gentlemen, if you don't mind.

Q. You've had good performances in major championships, and Quail Hollow with the field and the test kind of had a major championship feel to it. Was there encouragement there that you're ready now to win a major?
RORY McILROY: Um, yeah, I think -- has Quail Hollow got the PGA in 2017?
LEE PATTERSON: That's correct.
RORY McILROY: So it is a major championship venue. It was one of the best fields of the year. Yeah, I mean, in myself as feel as if I've had three third-place finishes in majors. To get to winning them, I don't think there's -- I feel as if I'm very, very close.
But to be honest, I just want to start winning some regular Tour events before trying to get -- I've been a pro now for over three years and I've only won twice, so I want to try and get that win tally up a little bit before I start announcing to everyone that I want to try and focus on the majors and try to win all those because I feel with my game at the minute I'm ready to win normal Tour events and feel as if I'm very close to feeling like I can win majors, as well.

Q. If Quail were to ever hold a Ryder Cup, what would you like about that and dislike about it?
RORY McILROY: Well, I think the finish, those last four holes, the last five holes at Quail Hollow would make incredible viewing for the spectators. I think it would be very exciting. And it would be a very -- it would be a great venue for it. It's one of the best courses we play on Tour. Yeah, I mean, I'd love it to go there. It's a tough track. I think it would challenge all the players, and I'm sure you'd see some really good matches there.

Q. Any downside to it?
RORY McILROY: Not that I can see, no.

Q. Those last three holes get a lot of attention, but is there a single shot that maybe worries you more than others? Is it the tee shot on 17, or is it the tee shot on 18?
RORY McILROY: I mean, tee shot on 17 when they put that pin on the left isn't one of the most inviting shots you face during the year. But even -- I mean, even the tee shot on 7 is a really tough tee shot. The par-3 6th is a really tough par-3. When they play the 4th hole off the back tee, it's like a driver and a 5-iron into that green. People concentrate on the last few holes there, but it's such a great golf course, and it's got great holes wherever you look.

Q. You play with such great players because of your spectacular play. Do you play to how other guys are playing, or do you stay in the zone to play your game rather than be affected by either a poor round or a good round by the guys you're playing with? How do you approach that particular part of your game?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I think you have to stay focused on what you're trying and stay focused on your game. But there has been times where I've played where all three guys in the group have been playing really good, and you sort of get pulled along with the momentum a little bit. But you know, whenever -- if you're in a group and someone is playing badly, you're just trying to concentrate on doing your own thing.
But yeah, most times when you're out with threeballs or whatever, you're not really -- you don't really care what the other guy does, you're just trying to shoot the best score you can yourself, and that's all you can control.

Q. Just a general golf question. Seven of the ten guys who have won on the U.S. Tour so far this year have been ranked outside the top 100 when they won. Does that surprise you at all, or do you have any take on that?
RORY McILROY: It doesn't surprise me. I think the fields are so deep nowadays, and the difference between the top 10 players and the top 200 players, there's not that much difference. If you lined everyone up on a range, you couldn't tell the difference really, you know. It's just about how you play and how you perform in any given week.
I think one of the big things for guys, as you said, outside the top 100 winning is the technology. It's given some guys a better chance these days to maybe hit it a little longer and hit it higher or sort of do what they want with the ball than it used to be. So it's given -- it's brought the fields much closer together basically is what I'm trying to say.

Q. Have you thought about your schedule prior to Quail Hollow, what you'll be doing from the Masters on to Quail Hollow? Have you thought about where you'll be either in the States or over in Europe?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm going to play -- I'm taking three weeks off after this event at Doral, and then I'm playing in Malaysia the week after the Masters and then I'm taking two weeks off, then I'll play Quail Hollow. I'll probably get into Charlotte a little early and do a little bit of practice.

Q. Any second thoughts about missing THE PLAYERS?
RORY McILROY: No, I have thought about it a lot, and if I played THE PLAYERS, it would mean that the U.S. Open would be playing five out of six, which I told myself at the start of the year I didn't really want to play more than three in a row, so if I did play THE PLAYERS, it would go Wells Fargo, PLAYERS, Volvo World Match Play, Wentworth over in England and then the Memorial, so I'd be playing five in a row and then taking a week off and then playing the U.S. Open. So for me it's a little too much, especially with the back injury last year and just trying to make sure my body is in shape for every tournament I play. As much as I would quite like to play it, I just don't think it fits this year, but it doesn't mean that I'm not going to play in the future, you know.

Q. What do you do between Memorial and the U.S. Open?
RORY McILROY: I'll probably head over to Congressional early, get a few rounds in, and just sort of hang out there, play a little bit. Might go up to New York and play at a couple courses up there, but that's basically it, you know, just try and sort of -- I've never played Congressional before, so get there early, sort of see what the course is like, make a game plan for it and sort of get to know the golf course and try and get ready for going on the Thursday.
LEE PATTERSON: We look forward to seeing you here in Charlotte in just a couple of months. Thanks so much for spending time with us.
RORY McILROY: No problem at all. I look forward to it. Thank you.

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