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March 7, 2018

Rory McIlroy

Palm Harbor, Florida

DOUG MILNE: Okay. I'd like to welcome Rory McIlroy to the Interview Room here at the 2018 Valspar Championship. Rory, thanks for joining us.

Making your first start here. You've had a couple looks over the past few days. Some thoughts on being here this week and how you're feeling, how the course sets up for your game.

RORY MCILROY: I'm excited to be here. I've watched a lot of this tournament over the years on TV. I always -- it always seemed like a very positional golf course, you have. You don't have to be too aggressive off the tee, have a conservative game plan, lay back, give yourself sort of the longer shots to the green.

That's really what I saw in there. I was surprised, not undulating, the greens have a lot of slope from one side to the other, whether it's back to front or left to right. You can't really see that on the TV.

The golf course is great. It's a good test. Not a whole lot of drivers but lot of mid to longer irons into the green. Tough par 3's. Probably a course you're going to have to try to take advantage of the par-5s and try to take care of those because it doesn't really offer a lot more in terms of real birdie chances.

Even the shorter holes you're laying back, you're hitting 7-iron to the green so it's not -- you still want to feel like you can make birdie from there but it's a good test and the wind is going to get up tomorrow and Friday it looks like.

It's good to see the golf course a couple of times. Yeah, I'm excited.

DOUG MILNE: You're making the fourth start on the Tour this season. You have two Top-5 finishes Overseas.

How are you feeling bringing your game in here?

RORY MCILROY: Yeah. I started the year -- well, sort of slowed down a little bit over the last three events. I felt like the first time at Peeble -- and Peeble is a little different. I don't really look at that too much. I played at Riviera, felt on Saturday I could have shot a better score and could have gotten myself a little closer to contention and Sunday, and then the Honda was a tough week.

My swing got a little out of sync in the wind and made a couple of big numbers at 17 which didn't help. So, I said this, yes, I hope the Snake Pit is better to me than the Bear Trap.

So, it's been nice to have a week off and wind up at Augusta for a couple days and had a good time up there. Checked that out.

Actually played quite a bit of golf last week. My week off but I got a bit of practice, played a lot of golf and little more refreshed than the first three weeks of the year. Looking forward to getting back out at it and getting myself ready.

DOUG MILNE: We'll take questions.

Q. Rory, what were the conditions like when you went to Augusta, how do you compare this as a prep for the Masters?
RORY MCILROY: Conditions were good. Feel like every week they ramp it up. The golf course is in great shape. They could have had the tournament in a couple of days' time. That's really a lot of grass.

When we go up there at this time of the year it's a little softer, little slower, doesn't really play like it does in the tournament but it's still nice to go up there and play. We played it a lot.

Re-familiarize yourself with it. It was a nice trip. Yeah. Here, yeah, I mean I feel especially with the second shots that you give yourself on this golf course, it sort of prepares you a little better than you play some of the previous events that we play.

Not too much off the tee, lot of irons off the tees here and you still have to hit good shots. Definitely feel like a second shot golf course.

Q. Do you ever buy stuff in the pro shop?
RORY MCILROY: I do. I actually got a money clip. Yeah. I go in there and yeah.

Q. Do that at other courses?
RORY MCILROY: Usually I go into the Seminole pro shop and put stuff on my dad's account.

Q. Rory, Augusta just recently, Augusta was next week, would you be ready or do you need these reps?
RORY MCILROY: Totally ready. Yeah. I'd be happy to go to Augusta tomorrow and play and feel like I have a good chance, yeah.

Q. Even though it's not next week, what about the FedEx points (inaudible).
RORY MCILROY: The FedEx points, all that sort of stuff. I don't like seeing 175 next to it. Yeah, all that kind of stuff. I need to win some golf tournaments.

Q. I don't know how you can put this into words, can you remember your first time going to the Masters as a player and how your feelings of enthusiasm or whatever it might be has changed each year?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. I feel the first time I was there it's not -- of course, it's enthusiasm and it's anxious but I was intimidated by the place. That was my feeling of being at Augusta.

It's more because I've gotten to know the staff, because I've gotten to know the caddies, gotten to know quite a lot of members, it's not so intimidating anymore.

So I feel a lot more comfortable not just playing the golf course but just in the grounds. That can be quite an unnerving place the first time you go. I'm a lot more comfortable there.

Q. Saying the wrong thing, being in the wrong place?
RORY MCILROY: It's more the aura of the place, the things you have in your head about Augusta and about the Masters and watching all the stuff on TV.

I think if we were to play the other Majors at the same venues every year it would be the same thing. Peeble or Shinnecock or whatever for the U.S. Open, sort of be the same way. I think because you go back to the same venue it has a little bit of mystique about it and little bit of aura that others don't.

Q. Anything working on since Honda, having to compensate so long last year, that stuff sneak back in and you have to fight it or is that affecting anything now?
RORY MCILROY: Not necessarily. Yeah, I mean I just got my timing was off a little bit, just playing in the wind. Feel like it's been quite a windy year, even here the next couple days it's going to be windy.

One of those years where it's been quite windy and even where -- even last week down in Florida, in Jupiter, it was windy and trying to with it balls and work on your swing in the wind is sometimes not great. It's like trying to find a bit of a shelter where you can go out and work on some stuff.

Just really that, sort of trying to sync everything up again, just getting a little bit too much on my left side, trying to keep the ball down in the wind and started to get ahead of it and hitting shots to the right. Trying to synch everything that I can.

Q. Rory, like the first time in almost 50 years three guys going into the season that have a chance to win the Career Slam.
Do you feel any sort of competition even if it's not stated between you and Phil?

RORY MCILROY: I got the first chance, I got the first opportunity. It would be nice to do it. Yeah. I mean it's not that you're thinking about it all the time but there's three guys that have the chance to do it this year and yeah, I felt the first opportunity and not -- I just want to win the tournament, not ahead of those guys or whatever, just the opportunity. It's bragging rights.

But, you know, good to see Phil win last week. He's been trending in the right direction. I said yesterday more people are talking about him going into this stage of the season because it seemed like he was flying under the radar a little bit so all that great golf that he played culminated in a win.

Yeah, I mean golf really helped at this point, the three of us looking for the Slam, Tiger coming back, Justin Thomas playing so well, DJ being the No. 1 player in the world, Jon Rahm. It's good. I'm glad to be in the conversation.

Q. Rory, do you enjoy the aspect of this part of the schedule balancing tournament prep with the Masters prep or do you view it more of a challenge?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I'm really just trying to prepare for each and every event and try to play that as well as I can and some guys, maybe different, have one eye on the golf tournament and one eye on a few weeks time. I can't do that. I have to be one hundred percent committed to what I'm playing right now.

Right now my priority is the Valspar Championship and trying to win this tournament and trying to figure out a way to get myself around Innisbrook today. That's really what I'm trying to do. I feel if I do that, I play well, then it's more of a confidence, momentum, will help this in a few weeks.

Q. Rory, you saw Tiger at the earliest stage of his comeback in the fall and obviously you played a couple rounds in competition. He mentioned today he played ten rounds. Is it too soon to think about him in terms of all those names you just mentioned or would he be -- or would it be silly not to?
RORY MCILROY: I think silly not to just because of what he's done, what he's been able to do. Even if you go back to whenever -- he had the Achilles thing and then he came back after being out for quite awhile and finished 4th I think and so -- we're talking about Augusta and everything.

So, looking forward to that. The notion how to get himself around there, he's been in contention so much around there. So, I think it would be pretty silly not to put him among those people.

Q. (Inaudible.)
RORY MCILROY: That's great. I've been able to watch a little bit of him on TV. Obviously he's won a couple times on the European Tour, had a good chance to win and played in the final group with Phil.

No, playing in the Masters, 21? Be able to play the Masters, get that experience and for me, just to embrace the week and have fun and enjoy yourself.

I think the more you can do that, the more Augusta lends itself to letting you just play and I think if you overthink it then that's when Augusta can really think you.

If you just go out and play and be creative and sort of use your imagination, you can have a really great week. Good to see it.

Q. If he came to you and asked to play at Augusta, would you be pleased to go?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. Yeah, like I'm -- I got a game on Monday and -- yeah, of course. I always try to play with some of the guys that to play a practice round. I don't know if they want to pick my brain or someone else's.

Q. Couple things. I was thinking about DJ and the socks and the stairs and all during the whole mess from last year. I was wondering if there's any parallel.
You're on pretty good form but the Match Play and Wells Fargo and going to a place, the whole 9 yards.

Can you relate to that at all and if you can, what's the worse thing in terms of the initial realization you weren't going to be playing?

RORY MCILROY: Yeah. I feel like it was almost like I was only five years, it's the one -- not the one but I thought it's the best opportunity for me to win an Open Championship. Thankfully I was able to win one the year before but yeah, it was -- yeah, I was distraught.

Then when the week of the tournament was on, I felt -- I thought I would feel worse than I did, you know. Sort of put things in perspective a little bit.

I remember sort of a Monday finish and I remember going into the gym and it was like you -- one of my first rehab sessions and people were in the gym and working hard and doing their thing and not paying attention to TV.

Oh, life still goes on when you're trying to win one. Put things in perspective a little bit, but it was tough.

Of course, it was tough for DJ last year because it's such so out of your control. I could have -- for me I could have made the choice not to play soccer that day and I wouldn't be injured and would be able to play.

DJ was a little more unlucky. Wearing socks. You could say put shoes on. You don't think you're going to slip on the step and break your back. It was tough break but we get to go back to the Masters every year and we're going to have plenty of opportunities. It's not like it will be another four years for a chance for glory.

Q. You look at where he was last year in terms of form and it was pretty impressive. Did you ever take note of that as a player, ever been a case where the challenge of a Major was as much someone else in the field than it was the course itself?
A Yes and no. I think -- I guess I feel I've been that playing player before going to Valhalla after two wins in the summer but a lot of things can happen, 72 holes, and you still have to play really, really good golf to get yourself in the mix come Sunday.

So, I mean you could make that argument but I think it's more to do with control what you can control, play the golf as good as you can and if you end up on Sunday coming up against a guy in really good form.

Q. Last thing I want to ask you, to a player, you would almost hear everybody say that he prefer firm and fast conditions. Why?
RORY MCILROY: I think it's very in vogue, like very popular answer. Yeah, I mean I think it does, it does test more aspects of your game. You have to be more precise with your iron shots, you have to be more precise with your chips. You have to think about it a little bit more so -- firm and fast conditions does produce the best, I would say. That's part of it.

DOUG MILNE: Rory, thank you for your time as always. We appreciate it.

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