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March 5, 2016

Rory McIlroy

Miami, Florida

STEVE TODD: Many thanks for joining us. Just start with giving us your verdict on the day, obviously a great position in the tournament and nice to return a clean card, as well.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it is. I'm pretty sure that's my first bogey-free round of the year. To do it in a round like this is very pleasing. I've been saying all week that I've been making the birdies and I've been hitting the good shots. I've just been making too many mistakes.

So to play the last 36 holes on a golf course like this with just one bogey on the card is really what I wanted to achieve this week. I feel really good about my game. My ball-striking, tee-to-green, my driving, that really hasn't been an issue this year. That's been where I wanted it to be. But my scrambling and my putting have needed work.

I feel like the practice that I've put in over the last few weeks is really starting to pay off. Just look at some of the saves I had out there today and some of the big par putts; those were the things that were missing over the past three or four tournaments. And to be able to correct that and go out and play in a final group on a Saturday in a golf tournament like this on a golf course like this, and play bogey-free, it gives me a lot of confidence going toward.

Q. Have you surprised yourself how quickly you bounced back from the frustration of last week's Honda Classic, to be three-shot leader?
RORY McILROY: Not really. There's not many positives from a missed the cut but I made nine birdies over the first two days on a tough golf course in tough conditions. I knew the good stuff was in there. It was just about trying to eradicate the bad stuff, the loose shots, the mental errors, the mistakes.

This is more like the way I feel like I should play this week. I always try -- I think golfers, we don't win very often. We always have to try and look at the positives in things, and the positives over the first few tournaments of this year for me is I've been making a lot of birdies. I've been making -- but I've just been sort of like two steps forward, one step back type of thing. And to be able to, as I said, play the last 36 holes on this golf course without making too many mistakes is the real pleasing thing for me.

I didn't feel like there was much of a disappointment after last week. To be honest, to miss a cut and be able to sleep in your own bed, it's not too bad. Gave me a couple extra days to practice, and maybe if I didn't have those couple of extra days, I wouldn't have found something in my game that I really liked to go forward with. There's always a silver lining.

Q. Kind of gets glossed over sometimes, we seem to think that this putting grip just came naturally and clicked overnight. Can you give us an idea how much you did practice over the last few days before you got here to get this right?
RORY McILROY: I won't to say, so, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday -- so the four days that I was home after Honda, I probably spent at least two hours a day on the putting green, so eight hours cumulative before I got down here.

So I've put the work in and I've kept putting the work in. I've found a really nice routine that I go through before every round now, and you see me sort of holing putts from all around the hole from three feet, six feet, nine feet, and that gives me a nice feel before going out there.

So I've probably added an extra 30 minutes to my pre-round routine, and those extra 30 minutes are going all into putting, but I really feel like it's the way forward for me.

Q. Does more confidence lead to better play or does better play lead to more confidence?
RORY McILROY: Sort of like the chicken and the egg, which one (laughs) it's a hard one. I think better play has to lead to more confidence. I don't think you can gain confidence just by -- I mean, I can gain confidence by hitting good shots on the range and your game feeling really good, but you really have to take it from the range on to the golf course and hit the shots when it matters and hole the putts when it matters, and that's what gives you the confidence.

So playing a round like I did today, that gives me way more confidence than doing a really good two-hour practice session on the range. To go out there today when it really matters and do it, that's what gives you confidence.

Q. As a ramp-up to the Masters, how important is it to not only play well but be in the position you're in heading into your Augusta preparations?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it is, it's important. I always say I want to go into Augusta with at least one win under my belt each years. I've got a great opportunity to do that this week. It's always nice to be in contention.

I feel like the best way to prepare for golf tournaments is to get yourself into contention and feel -- because that what shows up weaknesses in your game is being under pressure at the critical moments and seeing how it holds up. And for three days, my game's held up very well, and we'll go out tomorrow and try to play another solid round and hopefully that's good enough.

Q. Can you give me your general mind-set on how you approach the final round with a 54-hole lead, especially here on a dangerous golf course with some big guys trying to reel you in?
RORY McILROY: I think I just have to set myself a target and try and go for that. I can't think of anyone else. I can't think -- it is a challenging golf course and I have to play smart, of course. But I need to set myself a target and I need to take advantage of the holes that I have been taking advantage of the whole week, the par 5s and some of the shorter par 4s; and playing smart on some of the holes where you can get yourself into trouble.

I guess try and set myself a number that I think if I get to that, it's going to be very hard for the other guys to get there. That's what I'll try and concentrate on.

Q. Are you aware of this record, only Jack and Tiger have won a dozen PGA TOUR titles before 27 --

Q. -- does that mean anything to you?
RORY McILROY: To be mentioned with them and to -- yeah, of course it means something. You're being mentioned with two of the best players to ever play the game. It's flattering and it's special. It's up to me to go out and do it, so -- I haven't done it quite yet. There's still a long way to go. There's 18 holes to negotiate out there tomorrow, and hopefully I will join that illustrious company tomorrow night. But I need to concentrate and play a good round of golf.

Q. One more putting question. Did you seek anybody's advice before you made this decision, or was it just a gut feel, and have you gone gut feel on other big things?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was really -- it was really me just taking ownership of my putting and my putting stroke. I mean, I sent a couple of videos to a couple of people -- actually the video I posted on Instagram.

And then there was one face-on that I sent to Dave Stockton, who thought it was great. He loved it, what we've tried to do in the past with my stroke. And I talked to a good buddy of mine, Harry Diamond, about putting, as well. He's a great putter and a great amateur player in his own right. He's very knowledgeable about the game, and sent him a couple of videos, as well.

I didn't seek anyone out, but I guess I send videos to a couple of people for confirmation more than anything else. But it felt really good to me from the start. I think when something does feel that right, you just have to go with it.

I stood up on the podium yesterday saying I didn't want that perception of me copying Jordan, but that hasn't really been the case this week. As I said, just keep working at it and keep going through my routine and hopefully, it's started to pay off already, which is a little bit of a surprise I guess. But got one more day to try to get this thing done tomorrow.

Q. You've said in the past that you're a very instinctive player. How instinctive is the new method at the moment? Is it becoming second nature? And secondly, second part to that, your play at the Masters over the years, has it been very instinctive, and that's why it has been difficult to finish first there obviously, or is it because of some other factor, putting perhaps?
RORY McILROY: I think the Masters, it's just been a bad nine holes for the last couple of years. I've had a couple of bad nine-hole stretches which has really taken me out of the tournament. And I guess again, that's more mental errors than anything else, and maybe when you find yourself a couple over and not trying to push too hard and trying to stay patient. So I think there's a big patience thing in there for me at Augusta.

I feel like the putting is becoming instinctive. I definitely think the first day, I was focusing more on the technical side rather than the feel side. But I think that just comes over time, playing more rounds, hitting more putts and getting a little bit more comfortable. It's felt pretty good the last couple of days. It's felt for the most part instinctive and I haven't really thought about the comfort of my hands on the grip. It feels like it's going on there very naturally, and I've been putting a good stroke on it obviously and hopefully that continues.

Q. Can you just walk us through the driver on 18 where you made the adjustment?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I took it out of the bag, and as I went, as I went to sort of -- I just put it on the ground, and I guess as I went to lean on it to tee it up, I felt or it sounded as if there was like a little pebble underneath the club head or something. I looked and there wasn't. And I shook it, and the head, just the notch on the whatever, adjustable hosel had just come loose, so I could tighten it again. I just had to make sure that I could and Adam reassured me that it happened to him a couple of times and I could do that. But there was a rules official waiting for me in the scorer's tent just to make sure that I had not changed it at all.

Q. And secondly, I don't know off the top of my head but a lot of your wins have come from being in front kind of going into Sunday. Aside from the obvious of the three-shot lead is there a difference in comfort or rhythm for you front-running as opposed to when you're trying to chase someone down, even if you're only a couple back?
RORY McILROY: Again, it goes back to what I just said earlier, to setting yourself a target and setting yourself a number and trying to get to that. Because when you have a lead that's, say, a three-shot lead, for example, you set yourself a number that you think is going to be achievable, but you know that it's going to be very difficult for the guys behind to get to that number.

And that's very much -- that's been my approach to having 54-hole leads, basically, since Augusta in 2011. That's what I learned, that you can't protect a lead. You can't defend. You have to just keep going and set yourself a target. Basically, I can't play defensive. Defensive isn't my style.

So I need to go out there and be aggressive and be assertive. Obviously pick and choose your moments, but for the most part, set yourself a number, get out there, do it. And that takes everything else away, as well. It takes the thought of winning a tournament, the thought of -- all the other stuff. Because if you're just going out there trying to shoot a number, at the end of the day if you shoot that number and achieve your goal, you're going to walk home with the trophy anyway.

Q. You played with Adam Scott again today and obviously had another great time playing with Adam, as you always do. You still have 18 holes to play but does it give you extra spring going into tomorrow knowing you come from two shots behind the guy that won the tournament last week, to three in front -- if you know where I'm coming from.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I played with Adam the last day in L.A. and obviously I watched quite a bit over the weekend at the Honda and obviously saw him out there again today. He didn't have his best stuff with him today but still he's playing awfully well. You can see that over the first two days. It's always enjoyable to play with Adam. I feel like our styles of game are quite similar. I think he swings the club better than basically anyone else on Tour, so it's always nice to play with him and watch that.

It was enjoyable, and it does give me confidence knowing that a guy is playing like that and being two shots behind him at the start of the day and having a three-shot lead, it must mean that I'm doing some things right, as well. That gives me a about the of confidence, too, yeah.

STEVE TODD: Thanks for your time, Rory. Good luck tomorrow.

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