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July 5, 2017

Rory McIlroy

Portstewart, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Rory, welcome. Massive week for you as always. Start us off with what you've been doing with the foundation this week.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, The Irish Open has become one of the biggest weeks in the year, not only for me, but for our foundation. We're able to raise a lot of money for worthy causes during this week, and that started last night with a great evening in Belfast with Pep. We were able to raise a lot of money for that.

Obviously I'm able to donate my prize money to the foundation, as well, with obviously with a $7 million prize fund is going to be substantial if I play any way decent. So that's good. It's an added bonus that The European Tour Foundation ha pledged £100,000 to the foundation, as well.

It's fantastic that we're able to, we have been able to -- the foundation, myself along with The European Tour been able to raise the profile of this event from where it was a few years ago to what it is now; but at the same time, being able to help all these worthy causes. We raised over a million Euros last year and hopefully we can do the same this year.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your friendship with Pep and how it started?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I was good friends with him, and then he picked the City job, so I don't know (chuckle). But no, my relationship with Pep started at The Ryder Cup in 2012. He was there. That was sort of his sabbatical year from management. He loves his golf. He went to the Masters that year. Went to The Ryder Cup. Struck up a bit of a relationship.

Actually Pep and my dad, basically, walked all three days together and my dad is a huge City fan at that time he was asking, Pep, when are you going to come manage City, and obviously he got his wish four years later I guess. That's how it started.

Then I caught up with him sort of in March or April this year. I actually used a facility, the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance, to do some testing, and it's right beside's City's training grounds. So I caught up for lunch with him and asked if he would come over; we would love to have him and to play in the Pro-Am and obviously to have a chat last night, which he did. He's very generous with his time.

I think everyone enjoyed it. He told some great stories and it was a great night for, as I said, a very worthy cause and we're very grateful for him to coming over and doing that.

Q. He's not converted you into a City fan just yet?
RORY McILROY: No, definitely not. My dad is a City fan. That's as far as it will go in our house.

Q. With all you've got going on this week, how important is it for you personally to defend this trophy?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm very proud to be sitting here as defending champion. You know, The Irish Open is a title I've wanted to win since I was a young boy, and to realise that dream last year was very special. Not only because of just winning, but in the fashion that I won, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my golfing career.

You know, it will be great to have a chance to defend it again this year, and I feel like I'm playing well enough to be able to have a chance. Looking forward to the week.

Q. Graeme McDowell yesterday told us yesterday he's back at his mom and dad's; what's your plan this week?
RORY McILROY: Fortunately I have a place of my own here, so I don't have to stay with my mom and dad, even though I did go to their house a couple of nights ago for dinner. That was nice of my mom to cook that. It's just over an hour drive from Holywood to here. So I stayed, obviously was in Belfast last night, stayed at home. But I'll stay up here for at least a couple of nights, depending on how I play over the next couple of days. If I have a late tee time on Saturday, I'll probably head home for the night on Friday.

Depends; if I play well enough, I'll have the home comforts, but if not and I have early tee times, I'll stay up here.

Q. The change of date, moving this to July, how much do you think that can help you as a launchpad?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's fantastic to get the date. I think it's been one of the biggest achievements of this whole journey in the last few years of The Irish Open is being able to get a better date. Look, the weather is always going to be unreliable in this country.

So moving it from May to July, you have to have at least a better chance of some great weather, but not just that, you're playing links golf leading up to The Open. And that's I didn't have the likes of Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm and Justin Rose and a lot of other guys that are playing. It's a great lead-up to obviously The Open championship at Birkdale in a few week's time. That's why I'm here. That's not just the reason I'm here; it's the reason I'm playing in The Scottish Open next week, as well, is just to get some links golf and be competitive.

Q. You've talked about the charities you're helping out again this week. One of them is the Harry Gregg Foundation. I know you met him before at Windsor park but you met him again before coming in here. How much do you admire the man that is Harry Gregg?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I just met him there earlier and I said we're so happy to be able to help. Look, there's a lot of worthy causes we could help this week, and we are trying to help as many as we can, but we sort of singled out a few that were maybe a little closer to our hearts than the rest.

Yeah, Harry Gregg and all he's meant to Northern Ireland, yeah, just the whole history of what he's been through and everything what he's trying to achieve in his later years. It is, it's always nice to be able to help out in some way. He's a great man, great character, and hopefully, as I said, we can raise a lot of money this week.

Q. How do you feel, starting to host the tournament, with the expectation levels and the extra pressures that come, like hosting a night last night and being a bigger part of the hosting side of things. You won last year, so obviously you're figuring out how to balance it. Do you feel like you're in a place to do that again and go on and win this week?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think I learnt a lot at County Down in 2015 of what I can and can't handle in terms of what I put on my plate for the week.

I think it's almost like I split the week into two parts. Monday to Wednesday, I get everything that I need to get done, whether it's the night last night or obviously all of this stuff, all of the stuff outside of playing and practising and preparing to play the golf tournament.

But then once I sort of get Wednesday over and done with, it's purely golf and I just want to play as best I can. I think if I can play well and get myself into contention, it's a great thing for me, but it's also a great thing for everyone else; someone that's local, a top player, creates interest and it's great for the tournament.

From tomorrow onwards, it's just about the golf and trying to play as best I can and trying to win.

Q. It's easier to play in The Irish Open when you've already won The Irish Open?
RORY McILROY: A little bit. I think it is a little bit easier. I definitely felt the burden of it a little more and being able to put my name on the trophy and call myself an Irish Open winner, it is nice.

There's always that little bit of extra pressure when you come home to play and I've struggled with that in the past. I felt last year was one of the first times I embraced it, and I felt like I used the crowd support in the right way rather than it being a negative where you felt the pressure. You feel like that spurs you on and that's what I really felt last year.

I think it was a big turning point in my career in The Irish Open because my form in it previously wasn't too good. It was nice to get that win. Yeah, it might just be the pressure a little bit, and makes you be able to play a little bit more free because of that.

Q. How would you describe your form going into this week?
RORY McILROY: It's been up and down obviously, with the injury and everything, it's been a bit of a stop-start year. There's enough good in there. I've played a lot over the past couple of weeks. I signed off at the Travelers with a 64 and played really well.

I've played quite a bit of links golf over the past ten days since being home. My game feels in really good shape. Never quite know till you're out there in the heat of competition, but game feels in good shape. I don't want to talk myself up too much, but my game is feeling good.

Q. You certainly don't sound bored, as one former pro put it. How annoying were those remarks?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, so I must have wrote that Tweet and deleted it about five times before I actually sent it. And yeah, it's one of those things. I sort of regret sending it at the end but I actually gave my wife, Erica, my phone and my Twitter and told her: Change my password to something else and don't tell me what it is.

So as of the time being, I'm off social media just because of that reason. I don't need to read it. It's stuff that shouldn't get to you and sometimes it does. So yeah, off it for awhile.

Q. How close do you feel you are to closing that gap to winning your next major?
RORY McILROY: I'm close. Look, I've got two big opportunities coming up this summer. Birkdale is a golf course I feel I can do well at. I played there on Thursday. I feel like I got a really good feel for what I need to do around it and what parts of your game you need to have in good order.

And then Quail Hollow for the PGA, I've won there two times, my first win on the PGA TOUR and last time I won by seven. I got beat in a playoff before, as well, with a couple of Top-10s. It's a course I've got great memories and I've played well on before. I think they are two opportunities for me to get back on the major ladder and start to win those again.

Q. I wasn't going to ask about the Twitter, but seems the door's been opened. Is it just a case of -- obviously millions of things get written about you, but certain things, you just feel you can't let go, somebody insinuating you didn't care?
RORY McILROY: It's not really -- it's not what was said. It was who said it and who -- anyone that's been in that environment should realise how hard golf is at times, and I think that's the thing that got to me more than anything else.

So yeah, that was sort of -- if it was written by a member of the media or something, I could let it slide, because I can sort of say to myself, they don't really know how it is and they don't know what you have to deal with. But a former player that has won a major and been successful; that's sort of why it got to me and that's why I sort of retaliated a little bit.

Q. Just on this tournament itself, and obviously you've got the great date in the calendar, huge prize fund, big names playing, is there anything else on the agenda you're looking to keep pushing it forward as it goes on?
RORY McILROY: Get the prize fund to 10 million, that would be good. But no, just keep it where it is. The whole reason we started this journey was to try and get this tournament back to where it was in the 80s and 90s with the likes of Seve and Faldo and Langer and all of those guys coming and playing and winning, and there was a great buzz around the tournament.

I felt like the tournament had lost that buzz a little bit. Even though we had P√°draig Harrington, who is a three-time major winner, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, myself, it should be one of the best tournaments on The European Tour.

There was an opportunity there in 2013 and 2014 to start of partner with The European Tour and try to do something about that. I felt like sort of my obligation to help in some way, and I feel like we've done a great job so far. Now it's just about trying to keep the tournament towards that. It's a Rolex Series event. It's a huge prize fund and you've got some of the best players in the world here and a great date, as well, on links golf. It doesn't get much better than that.

Q. We've got Jamie here wondering, where does the front nine at Portstewart rank among the best front nines in links golf?
RORY McILROY: It's definitely up there. There's a few -- you'll have a few people say there's a couple of funky holes on the front nine. The second hole is a little -- you've got that hill on the left and if the wind is anywhere off the left, it's hard to hit the fairway.

But in terms of scenery and what you see on the front nine, it rivals any front nine in links golf. I think with the changes they made on the back nine, the back nine will probably play tougher this week than the front nine.

On the front nine, you've got some opportunities to score. But it is, it's fantastic. That opening tee shot, you can see the strand down your right and all the dunes, the fescue. It's spectacular and if the weather stays like this, it will be great viewing and it will look great on TV, as well.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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