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August 23, 2017

Rory McIlroy

Old Westbury, New York

MARK WILLIAMS: We'd like to welcome Rory McIlroy to the intervieW room at the Northern Trust.

Rory, you're defending champion of this trophy, the FedExCup, and obviously you won in exciting fashion last year at East Lake.

Coming into The Northern Trust, you've won every single Playoffs event at least once, except for this one. What is it about this one that you need to do to get over the hump? You haven't particularly had good starts in the FedExCup.

RORY McILROY: No. I don't know what it is. I think I've always been very comfortable around the golf course in Boston. So I think here, because the venue changes most years, I think that's maybe a factor.

But yeah, I don't know what it is. I've played pretty well at East Lake before a couple times; obviously last year with the win. And then the BMW moves around a little bit, too.

But yeah, I'd love to win this one. It would be great to start off the Playoffs with a good finish and move myself up. I'm 44th now, so I need a couple of good weeks to play myself into Atlanta. And once you're in there, even if you are in the teens or in the 20s, you still feel like if you go out and win this golf tournament, you have a good chance of bringing home that thing.

Yeah, I'm very aware I need to get off to a good start this week and post a good finish to try and play my way into contention in Atlanta.

MARK WILLIAMS: That's the other thing I was going to ask you just before we take questions. You mentioned you're 44th in the rankings right now and last year you came in 36. Has that ever been on your mind or a concern in your past?

RORY McILROY: Not particularly. I've done it both ways. I've been around the top of the rankings a couple of times, definitely in 2012 and 2014, and that didn't work out very well for me. I had a good chance in Atlanta those two years and didn't quite happen for me.

So I think sometimes with lower expectations, you can come in and the pressure is off a little bit and you can make a run and feel like you're more the hunter than the hunted. That's how I felt last year, and I got hot at the right time.

Yeah, you win two FedExCup -- you sort of think, you win two of the four, you should have a great chance of winning the entire thing. That's the goal again the next few weeks and hopefully I can do that.

Q. On the Sunday of the PGA, you sounded so unsure of whether you would even be at any of these events. How close did you come to shutting it down? What made you decide, and it sounds from listening to you, that you're not taking it week-by-week; you're all-in for the Playoffs. Just can you take us through your decision making?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, so I think, let's see, when I was talking the Sunday after I played at Quail Hollow, I played quite a lot leading up to that. I played every day the week before in Firestone and was hitting balls before and after the round and practicing. And then at Quail Hollow was the same. I played basically every day; I hit balls, and that was a pretty heavy load to put on my body because of what I have.

I felt at the end of those two weeks, I felt like it was achy and I was getting a few referred pains into my arms and stuff like that. But when I got home, I took a few days off. I met with my team, met with Steve MacGregor on Thursday, and by then, those symptoms had sort of calms down by just a little bit of rest.

It is something that I'm going to have to address. It's not something that I can -- if I manage it over these next few weeks, I can't do any damage to it; it's not as if I can do anything that's not already there. So it's just about managing it.

Yeah, I was unsure of what I was going to do and I came pretty close to saying, you know what, I'm going to wait and get myself healthy. But I still have a lot of time after these events to do that. So that's -- and I feel like I'm capable of winning. I feel like I'm capable of giving myself a chance to win this thing.

So if you feel that way and you know you're not going to do yourself any harm, then I think that was the right decision in the end.

Q. So was it internal pressures that made you feel like, I can do this and I want to do this, or were there some external pressures to not shut it down?
RORY McILROY: There was definitely external pressures. Yeah, of course there's external pressures. Look, it's not -- sometimes this decision doesn't just lie with you but with other factors, other factors. That was definitely a part of it.

I think the real thing for me was I want to win. I want to win at least once before the end of the year. I haven't not won a tournament since the 2008 season, which was my real rookie season on The European Tour.

Even in 2013 when I struggled, I went down to Australia at the end of the year and I won and it made the end of the year feel pretty good, and I'd like to have that feeling again before taking that time off at the end of this year and getting myself right for 2018.

Q. If you had to vote right now, and I think you've been in this position before, but if you had to vote for Player of the Year, who would you vote for and why?
RORY McILROY: Justin Thomas. I heard you ask that question to Patrick read and I was nodding in agreement. Four wins and major championship. For me it's all about wins. He's had more than anyone else. He won a major a couple of weeks ago.

Yeah, he would get my vote right now. That might change during these Playoffs, but I think it's a two-horse race between Justin and Jordan. Even though you've got Brooks who won the U.S. Open and Sergio who won the Masters, those guys have got three wins and four wins and a major each, and you know, if Jordan goes and wins one of these Playoff events or maybe wins a couple of them, then that might swing it in his favor.

But if we were to announce the Player of the Year today, I would say it would be Justin Thomas.

Q. Just to clarify, your schedule after the Playoffs will be what?
RORY McILROY: The Dunhill Links Championship, and then 2018.

Q. What do you think that rest will do?
RORY McILROY: I'm excited for it. To have three months where I can focus on myself, my health, my game and just improvement. I don't think I'm ever going to get a chance like this in my career again where I get this opportunity to take three months to re-evaluate things, to work on some stuff to just try and improve and get better.

I'm going to have to take a few weeks off before I can do any of that, but I feel like it's a tremendous opportunity to improve as a golfer and with my health and with everything. I'm excited for that. I'm excited to play these next few weeks but I've already sat down with the team and we have a three-month plan going forward from basically the -- I'm getting a lot of assessments and testing done, 19th and 20th of October.

And then from there forwards until next year, it will be -- all we'll be focusing on is getting me in the best possible shape with my body and my game going into 2018. So I'm excited for that.

Q. In regards to the rehab with this back/rib thing you've been battling this year, has it been more frustrating with the unknown and the lack of practice, compared to the ankle injury a couple years ago from that rehab?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, you know, you look at the two different injuries, and you'd think the angle injury was way worse. But it only put me out for five weeks. It didn't really hamper how I played or how I practiced from then on. Where this thing has just been so niggly and it's flared up and then it's calmed down and then it's flared up again.

I haven't had the time to really let it settle down and do -- I did at the start of the year, but as I said, I started to practice a little bit too hard, too early, when I came back from getting married and going on honeymoon, and then it flared up again.

So have this time to fully, you know, put the clubs away for five or six weeks, have two weeks where I shut it down and do nothing after the Dunhill Links and then start to rehab, start to, you know, get my body in better shape, get everything healthy, and then start to hit balls maybe end of November, and then work on some technical stuff November, December. And then when we get to January, hit the ground running and hopefully have an injury-free, stress-free, very successful year.

Q. I know you didn't grow up dreaming of this like you do the Claret Jug, but it seems like it's taken root with the players. How and when did that happen for all the players?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, the FedExCup is now, what is it, ten years old. Yeah, it's definitely now a part of when the players are setting their goals for the year, it's definitely something that's on their radar. They want to be FedExCup Champion.

I felt I was missing something; I feel like I've achieved quite a bit in this game, but the FedExCup was something that was missing. Last year, I felt very satisfied and proud of myself that I was able to win it. It was one thing that was left, regardless of the big paycheck and the money, just to be able to call yourself the FedExCup champion.

I've been the highest money winner in the regular season a couple of times on the PGA TOUR, but you don't really -- yeah, you might get the, I don't know, what is it, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson award, I don't know which one it is, but you don't get that title of FedExCup champion.

It's nice to enter these Playoffs and to be the defending champion and feel that. It's definitely a bigger deal to the players. It's right up there.

Q. I'm always interested, the $10 million, did you treat yourself to some indulgence? What did you do with some of it?
RORY McILROY: Had a wedding to pay for. We're just renovating a house, so that's going to take up a bit of that, as well. Wouldn't mind winning it again.

But no, geez, I don't know. It's not as if I've ever -- not ever, but it's nice to have it. Yeah, I didn't treat myself to anything, really. I think that's because I've got an in fluence in my life now, which is my wife, who would be a little more cautious with money than I would be. It's nice to have that yin and yang a little bit. Nothing so far. We just bought a new home in Florida and we are just starting to renovate it. That will take out a chunk of it.

Q. If you had to guess, how many different putters do you think you've tried out in the last year, whether in tournaments, on the practice green or just like at home?
RORY McILROY: I could probably tell you -- one, two, three, four, and then nine -- I went from four to nine pretty quickly after Travelers. (Laughter) nine. Not quite one a month.

Q. Would you like to find one that you stay with for years at a time or does that not really matter so much?
RORY McILROY: I don't think it matters so much. Different guys have had success with putters they have had for a long time. I've always been a tinkerer with that part of the game. It's always been something that if I see something, and yeah, that's nice and I like it and might try it out.

But yeah, I don't know. I'm not a -- at the end of the day, it's the person. It's not the putter. I think that's the thing. But sometimes you try to defer the -- you try to take a little bit of pressure off yourself and change the putter and think it's going to help but on the end of the day, it's the person on the end of the club that makes the difference.

Q. I think you said after Quail Hollow that this latest flare up, you don't really feel it while you're playing but it's mostly after your round where you feel the numbness. Is that a correct assessment, and if you had felt something more during the round, would you have reconsidered?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I definitely would have, if it had of restricted me while I was playing, then the decision mightn't have been quite the one that I made.

But again, that was just an increased load over those two weeks. And it wasn't really -- I think I described it as numbness and it was more a dull ache. It wasn't as if I couldn't feel my fingers or I couldn't feel my arm. It was more a dullness, a dull ache. It was more of, not painful, but you just felt like something wasn't quite right.

So I think whenever someone hear's numbness, then that -- all of a sudden, it's like, well, that's nerve and that's really bad. It wasn't quite numbness. I didn't probably describe it the right way.

It's fine. I had it checked last week. The rib is fine. It's just the joint where the rib attaches to the vertebrae. That's the problem. It's an inflamed joint and because I've adjusted it so much, that little joint, then the ligament has become quite lax, so the joint moves quite of line quite frequently and I adjust it back into place but the more I do that, the more it's just going to get inflamed and get angry.

It's sort of a never-ending cycle, I guess. But again, it's one of these things that if I manage, it's okay to play. But I do need to take that time so the joint, the inflammation can clear away from the joint, the ligament can become a little bit stronger again and it not having to be adjusted all the time, and then once that happens, I can start to go to the gym again, start to practice more and start to get back into a routine that I'm more familiar with.

Q. When you were playing, is it easy for you to mentally not think about that or does it ever cross --
RORY McILROY: Yeah, look, I think because I've played with it all year, I almost forget about it on the course. That's the nice thing, I guess. It's not an issue when I'm out there.

Q. Curiously want to take you back to the Player of the Year thing, because you said that the number of wins is the big factor; yet that it's probably a two-horse race. I'll throw two names at you: Hideki and DJ, who have won three times including two WGCs. If they won two or three of these and won the FedExCup, would that change your mind?

Q. That would be like six wins.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, but what does that -- you know, this is no disrespect to any PGA TOUR event or even the World Golf Championships, but I would give back three of my PGA TOUR wins for another major, so, yeah.

Q. No one has been able to win this back-to-back. What would it mean to you, should you be able to pull that off and be the first guy to ever do that?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it would be nice. It seems quite unlikely at the minute but it would be -- it would be great. I think we've seen what can happen in these Playoffs and how quickly you can shoot up the rankings with a good week or a win.

I went from, I think I was just inside the 40 -- maybe 38 or 39 in Boston last year and I win, and all of a sudden I'm into the top 5. I didn't have a great week in BMW and fell out of that top five, and obviously the top five is where you want to be going into THE TOUR Championship because you control your own destiny then.

You can move up very quickly in this format with the quadruple points and everything. Yeah, you know, it would be great. It would be awesome to be able to put my name on this trophy again. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I didn't have a chance. I'm here and I know I've done it before, and hopefully I can give myself a chance to do it again.

Q. For you to become FedExCup champion, you have to beat Hideki Matsuyama who is in first place in the ranking right now. What do you think his strength is?
RORY McILROY: Hideki has been playing well, not just this year but last year starting in China at the HSBC Champions. He's a great player. You know, he had a great chance to win it. He obviously won at Firestone and had a great chance at the PGA. He didn't quite have his best stuff on Sunday.

But fantastic player. He went up a lot in my estimation. He came over and played The Irish Open this year, which was great for our tournament and great to see him there. I think he enjoyed himself. It was a little bit different and different conditions. Yeah, he's great. I've always gotten along well with him and I'm a big fan of his. I'm a big fan of his game. He's got great work ethic. You know, he's going to be one of the best players in the world for a long time.

Q. In electing just to play the Dunhill after the FedExCup, how much is it about getting fitted with a green jacket next April, for some sort of break you're going to have?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, it's more just to have a -- I feel like the last three years have been a little bit stop/start for me. There's been some wins and some success in there but it hasn't been -- don't feel like it's been smooth sailing every single year, and that's what I'm gearing towards. The more you can have less distractions, the better it's going to be.

Of course, next year, everyone is going to be focused on April and Augusta and making sure their game is in good shape. For me, if I'm shutting it down at the end of October this year, my focus is on January 18 and being ready and being ready to go. I planned on playing a heavy schedule at the start of this year. Didn't quite work out that way but I plan on trying to do that next year, playing a lot on the West Coast. If I were able to win, if I were able to win one of these tournaments starting in Hawai'i; so there's a lot to still play for.

But I just want to be healthy and just have zero distractions and zero, even with equipment change this year and everything, it just has been a little bit of an up-and-down year. And it will be ten years since I was a pro, and my team and I talked about this last week; I feel like all there is clear road ahead of us from now until 2030, for example.

The next ten to 12 years are just going to be clear road. If I can do everything that I know that I can, work hard, and look after myself, practice the right way, have the right people around me, you know, there's no reason that I can't go and have a more successful ten years than the ten years I've just had. That's really what I'm focusing on.

Q. I don't know if you heard the news, Billy Payne retired, he stepped down. You've obviously been closely associated with that tournament. Can you talk about his legacy, not just what he's done at Augusta but what the club has helped done to grow the game?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, a lot. I think Billy Payne's legacy will be -- I think, yeah, first and foremost, Drive, Chip & Putt. I think that's huge. I think having the Asian Amateur Champion come and play; having the Latin American Amateur Champion come and play.

So bringing different parts of the world into the little Augusta bubble, I think that's been a great thing. But also, I think Augusta has become more open, has become more -- it definitely has changed with the ways of the world over the past few years. I think everyone has noticed that. The media center now and everything that's now associated with the tournament, he has elevated it to just a different, different status, a different level.

Even though it was always at the highest level of golf, I think Billy just elevated it somewhat to -- it sort of stands alone in our game right now. I think everyone would agree with that.

Q. Want to step out of the golf course and step into the ring. I know you're a big boxing fan. Conor McGregor, Mayweather, are you going to block out some time to watch that considering McGregor is from Ireland and do you fancy his chances?
RORY McILROY: Certainly that's all I've done is follow the build up to this thing. Now that I'm off Twitter and social media, all I do is watch YouTube videos of Conor McGregor.

I'm intrigued. He talks a good game. If you just listen to his press conferences and what he says, you would think that this guy, he's the one with the 50-0 boxing record. It's amazing. I'm a big admirer of him. He talks about visualization and the law of attraction and all this stuff that he believes in it and he vocalizes it, and he has the courage to say what he thinks. I'm a believer in that stuff, and I'm a big advocate of that. And some of the stuff he does wouldn't be my cup of tea, but he believes 100 percent in himself and he believes he's going to go out there on Saturday night and shock the world.

I'm interested just to see how it all plays out, but I just fear that they do all this trash-talking and they go behind the scenes and they are having a laugh and thinking: I can't believe we are talking all this public for a ride. We are all buying into it and they are like, can you believe these people believe this. I just hope it doesn't turn into it and I hope it's not in any way fixed.

It's amazing, like we were talking about, imagine McGregor knocks him out in the first couple of rounds. They would get even more for the rematch. The rematch would be even bigger. So it's just -- I just don't know what that zero on Mayweather's record is worth, and that's the thing. That's his legacy. If he goes down and lies down for ten seconds at some point in that, you know, is that worth making an extra few 100 million? That's sort of up to him.

Yeah, as you can see, I'm very knowledgeable on it. (Laughter) yeah, I'm interested about it. I'm intrigued. We'll see how it goes.

Q. Have you met him? What's he like personally?
RORY McILROY: Personally very humble. He's a showman. He does all this stuff for the cameras. Behind the scenes, he wants to be a shrewd businessman. He's made a lot of money. He will make a lot of money. I guess looking from him, he's loving being a dad, all that sort of stuff. He wants to provide for his family. He comes from a tough area in Dublin and he doesn't forget where he came from. I think he's a big role model for a lot of people back home, as well. I think that's why he's got so much support.

Q. You'll have this nice break and you've come back renewed and refreshed and able to work on your game. As you break down your game, is there one area where you can make the biggest leap?
RORY McILROY: There's a few. I'm just about to meet Mark Broadie after this. Just looking at stats and looking at strokes gained and all this sort of stuff.

. There's certain areas of my game, and that's why I want to get together with him and he knows these stats inside out and where are the areas I should focus on, not just more on, yes, I know that I can get better from 100 to 150 yards but is that an area I should be focusing on, because is that where I can gain the most, or is it, you know, my up-and-down percentage from 20 to 30 yards isn't as good as it could be. Or I'm top 30 on TOUR from four to eight feet but ten feet to 20 feet, I'm 130th.

So where can I make the most gains and where can I improve the most on. So I'm excited for that. I'm a big believer this stats and using stats and objective data to improve your game and using statistics to influence your practice and what you do on the practice range, and strokes gained is the best stat, by far, that has come into our game for the last, well, ever, really.

I'm excited to sit down with him this afternoon and talk about all that stuff.

Q. When did you start using the stats?
RORY McILROY: I've used them for awhile but I've sort of dipped in and out of them. I've become a big believer that they are very important and if you look at strokes gained from when they started to collect the ShotLink data, from I guess 2003, the only guy that has ever averaged three strokes gained on the field total average a year is Tiger, and he did it eight seasons. No one else has come -- my best-ever year was 2012 and I averaged like 2.67. That's my goal. My goal is to get to three. I want to be the only other player to get to three strokes gained total average. If I can do that, you'll win five or six times a year, at least.

Q. Everyone talks about growing the game. What does that mean to you? How do you think as a player you can best grow the game?
RORY McILROY: Just by carrying yourself the right way and being courteous and nice and being a role model to kids that see you on the course and on TV.

And that's really it. Just by, you know, what Jordan did at The Open Championship, or what Justin did at Quail Hollow, that's growing the game because that inspires young people to play our game and pick up the game for the first time.

I think that's the best way to grow the game. I mean, I don't know if growing the game means expanding participation in junior golfers in this country or all around the world. It's a broad -- once people say grow the game, it's like, well, there's a lot of different ways and different avenues to do that.

I think if you project the right image and you're a role model to people that look up to you and want to emulate what you do, you grow the game.

Q. You felt no different responsibility when you were No. 1 than you do now?
RORY McILROY: No, I think we are all in the same boat. Obviously there's a few people in our game that are maybe looked up to more than others, just because of the success that we've had and the more time you get on TV and media and all that. So the spotlight is on, so it is. It's up to the guys that are in that spotlight to put that great picture forward and be a role model and be someone that these kids want to look up to, and that's what I try to do. Just try to conduct myself in the right way.

Q. Can your playing partners impact your performance, and if so, can you cite any examples, either positively or negatively where that's happened?
RORY McILROY: Both. Both. There's times when you and your playing partner get off to hot starts and you sort of feed off one another. Chris Kirk and I did that over the weekend in Boston a couple of years ago when he went on to win the tournament. We both, we teed off at I think the second tee time on Saturday or third tee time on Saturday, and all of a sudden we both shoot 65 on Saturday, and then we're in one of the last tee times on Sunday and he goes and shoots another 65 and wins the tournament. So that's one way of -- and negatively it can affect you, as well, more with pace of play than anything else.

Two examples. At Augusta, actually, 2011, when I played with Angel Cabrera on the last day, he was almost two quick for me and almost like I started to rush. I'm a fast player, but the pace of play was almost too quick; and then to the point where we were waiting so much on the group ahead instead of me maybe just taking my time and walking a little slower in between shots and that sort of stuff.

Conversely, third round last group in 2016 with Jordan. It was a tough day, but Jordan and Michael love a discussion over their shot, and Jordan won't hit the shot until he's 100 percent comfortable; and he's only right, that's the right way to approach it. But that was to me, and especially I would hit -- I would out-drive Jordan most of the time. So I'm standing there waiting on my ball, and I felt like I was waiting for ten minutes to hit my shot because of the discussions they were having. That's not a criticism at all. That's just the way it is. So I have to just alter my mind-set or again, walk slower to the ball or something, just to not feel like I'm standing -- standing there for ten minutes. There's two different examples.

MARK WILLIAMS: Rory, firstly, thank you for being so patient while we were waiting for Patrick to finish up.

RORY McILROY: I was glad no one brought up The Ryder Cup. (Laughter)

MARK WILLIAMS: And thank you for being so gracious with your time. We've enjoyed your insight. Good luck with The Northern Trust.

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