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May 9, 2018

Rory McIlroy

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

DOUG MILNE: We'll get started. Rory McIlroy, thanks for joining us prior to the start of the 2018 PLAYERS Championship, making your ninth start in THE PLAYERS this week and coming off of top-10s in three of your last five starts here, so you have enjoyed some success. With that said, you commented that you played a little bit today. Just a few comments as you make your way towards round 1 tomorrow.

RORY MCILROY: Yeah. This is a tournament that I sort of struggled starting off with the first couple years I played and then I sort of learned to play the golf course a little bit better and reined myself in on some tee shots, and that's what's brought me a little bit of success here. I feel like I've played a little bit better here as I've went along, and as you said, once I started to be a little bit more conservative, I started to sort of top-10 it and give myself half a chance.

That's what this place is all about. You have to be really smart, position your ball in the right spots off the tee, and really, it's funny, from Quail Hollow last week until to here, I stood up in the practice round yesterday and I had my second shot into the first hole and it didn't look like there was any green there because the greens are so much smaller this week than what they were at Quail Hollow, so just takes a little bit of adjustment. You hit it to the middle of the greens here, and you're always going to have a decent chance.

The course is in great shape. Played early this morning and played yesterday afternoon and obviously got a pretty good pairing tomorrow morning, or grouping, so I'm excited to start and get going.

DOUG MILNE: Okay. Questions?

Q. As you approach 17, is there like a specific strategy you try to go with? And how has it changed over the years?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, geez, I've always said, you put a bunch of grass around that hole and it's the easiest par-3 in the world. You just get the -- I guess the toughest thing about that hole is the wind because there's so many of the hospitality units up now and because the tee box is quite sheltered compared to where the green is, you just have to make sure you get the wind right. It's either a wedge or a 9-iron, you hit it -- you don't want to be too aggressive, it's a hole where you'll take 3 on it every day and move on. But I think the big thing there is just getting the wind right and trusting it and going with that.

Q. Just give us a general description of how the switch has gone in putting coaches for you, and do you have a kind of a timeline at all as to when you expect results to really flourish?
RORY MCILROY: I wasn't aware I switched putting coaches. No, I mean I made a couple little tweaks before Bay Hill, and it seemed to have paid off pretty well there. Just more of an adjustment in mindset rather than anything else. That's really been it.

Q. Could you be a little bit more specific in terms of your mindset, in terms of the switch?
RORY MCILROY: Just a little more free, a little more reactive and instinctive, caring less, that sort of -- that's where I've been at.

Q. It's quit a bit of American dominance at the moment; they hold the Ryder Cup, they hold all four majors. Is this perhaps an opportunity for you or another European perhaps to bounce back with just a few months to go to the Ryder Cup?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I think these things go in cycles. You look at the early, with what Harrington did at sort of 2007, 2008, into G-Mac, myself, I think the Europeans and British and Irish players have won their fair share over the last few years and we have won our fair share of Ryder Cups, and it's always going to be like that. I think it's more of a coincidence that the Americans hold all four majors and the Ryder Cup at the same time. Obviously for a European to win here would be nice because it's in their backyard a little bit. And it's not their TOUR, I feel like this is my TOUR as well, but yeah, I mean, look, I think Shinnecock coming up for the U.S. Open, here, as well, with the wind and the way the course is set up, it's quite a -- it's not your typical American golf course. It's a little more -- the elements are involved a little bit and you have to play some different shots, so I wouldn't be surprised if a European player was to excel over the next few weeks just because of the golf courses that are coming up. But there's a long way to go until September.

So I think Ryder Cup's a big event and we have all got one eye on it, but it all comes down to who plays best that week, and I've been parts of teams good and bad that we just hole putts at the right time or we don't hole putts at the right time, and that's usually what the Ryder Cup comes down to. So hopefully this time we're on the right side of that.

Q. Can you take us through the evolution of your feelings about this tournament and this course, kind of from didn't like it that much to now you like it?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I didn't like it that much to I like it a lot. Yeah, a few -- I mean, it's funny, like I started staying on the beach a few years ago, and that's made the event a lot more enjoyable. It is. It's sort of I stayed pretty much on property there at the -- at that hotel, and I just felt like I couldn't get away from it, and it's busy and there's a lot of people, and so to go and stay on the beach now, it's a nice sort of release from everything that's going on around the event. So I actually put a lot of it down to that.

And again, I've learnt to like the golf course, and I've had to do that a lot with Pete Dye courses. The first time you get on some Pete Dye courses they're very strange and they set you up at wrong angles, and visually they're just a little bit not what you want to see, but you learn to deal with it and play the way he wants you to play. I was a little stubborn the first few years I came here and was trying to sort of break away from that, but, yeah, you just have to play this golf course a certain way and be a little bit better than everyone else with your irons and your wedges, and that's usually a good combination around here.

Q. If we take your Masters disappointment as a given, and you've spoken about that, can that outcome fuel or increase your motivation to do lot of great things in the rest of this year, or is that not a legitimate thought process?
RORY MCILROY: No, it is, for sure. As soon as the Masters went and I had a week to reflect and everything, it was all positive. It was like, I've -- I'm not just three, I've got so many opportunities, I'm playing well, my game's in good shape. We have got this event here; I've never won this; I would love to put this on my CV. We have got the other three major championships, we've got everything else to play for, FedExCup, whatever. There's a lot of golf to play. We're only not even halfway through the season. It was disappointing that I didn't get results I wanted, but I took a lot of positives from the fact that I probably didn't have my best stuff at Augusta and I still was able to play my way into the final group and contend.

So yeah, and it does, it gives you motivation. You know you've been there. I've already been there once this year, and I all I wanted to do this year was give myself chances. It wasn't about results, it was about if I can give myself a chance, I put myself in the final group of the first one of the year and it didn't quite work out, but if I can put myself in the final group of some other events coming up, then hopefully I'll have some recent experience and I'll deal with it a bit better.

Q. As far as this tournament goes, do you think you've done your legwork now here? Do you think it's time to contend, win?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I mean this is my ninth time here, so I'm not a spring chicken anymore. I've got a few years under my belt, and it took me a few years to figure it out, but I've had a few top-10s here and I haven't been quite right in contention but I've been close enough. So yeah, no, I think it is about time I step up and give myself a chance on Sunday.

Q. What do you do on the beach? Do you go swimming, build sandcastles, look at the sunset?
RORY MCILROY: Just -- not really. I mean, go for walks. Even just sit on the balcony and look out and sort of get away from it a little bit. It's just very -- and it's such a nice beach here. The beach here is so much better than the beach we have back in Jupiter. It's like it's big and flat and you can run on it, you can walk on it, and it doesn't really pull the legs out of you like it does back down a little bit south of here. But, yeah, it's just a nice, relaxed environment. I feel like a lot of players and sponsors and all sorts of people stay right onsite here and it just -- sometimes it can get a little bit too much and a bit busy, and you're trying to make your way through the lobby so quickly and sort of keep your head down so you don't make eye contact with anyone, and it's a little bit different over on the beach.

Q. Just appreciating that time to reflect, did that kind of come with age and maturing a little bit, just learning to appreciate that?
RORY MCILROY: I think so. It has. I mean, sometimes I don't think I've given myself enough time to reflect on the good things, either. You go through a season and you've had a lot of success, but all -- I think as a golfer you're always looking ahead. You're always looking to the next event, the next -- I mean, even you play a golf tournament and you may win on Sunday night, but as soon as that's over, your attention turns to the next week.

That's the great thing about golf, as well; you always have another week and always have another chance. So I think it's -- you need to appreciate the good times and you obviously have to learn from the tough times, as well, so I think both ways you have to reflect and try to keep learning no matter whether it's a good experience or a bad one.

Q. I think you said recently that in terms of your game you weren't especially comfortable with any one aspect. When that is the case, what is your approach to sort of getting back on track?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I think I feel like my game gradually got a little better as the week went on last week, and I feel like it's continued in that trend over the last couple of days. I practiced a little bit and played yesterday, played another nine today, practiced a little bit. It feels a little bit more comfortable. I was trying to make a couple of little tweaks in my swing, and I feel the first week you come out and you still have -- you're not necessarily 100 percent reacting to the target, you're still thinking of trying to get the club back in a certain position or trying to do something, so I think that, after playing a tournament, that sort of bedded itself in, so my thought isn't as much swing thought, it's more just trying to get the ball to do what I need it to do.

Q. I know this an important week, I don't want to look too far ahead, but you mentioned Shinnecock before. I want to get your thoughts on it. What you know about it, have you been there, and how does it set up for you?
RORY MCILROY: I haven't thought about it much. I've played it twice before. It's a great golf course, one of my favorites in the United States if not the world. But there's still -- I've got these four events coming up before I -- or three events, four events, before I play there, so -- look, I'll turn my things to Shinnecock whenever I need to, but right now I've got some big events coming up, starting here at a golf course and at a tournament that is very important to the players, and I sort of want to focus on that.

But I think if my game's in good shape, my game should be able to handle any golf course, even if it is a U.S. Open setup.

Q. What makes it one of your favorites?
RORY MCILROY: I just -- I don't think they need to do much with it. You don't need to trick it up; you don't need to try and make it too tough. Basically they don't need to do what they have -- they just, they leave it as is and they will get a good winner.

Q. Going back to this course, Tiger was in yesterday and he was saying that because of the way the course is designed that a lot of guys are hitting from the same spots, that that basically makes it a wide-open field. Would you say that of all the major -- I'm sorry, all the big tournaments around that this one maybe has the widest open of all the fields?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I mean, so that's how I felt the first three years coming here. I felt like why should I try and play from the rest, the same spot as everyone else when I can drive it 20 or 30 yards further, but the course just doesn't allow you to do that. So that's why I said at the start, anyone that has their iron play and their wedge play on, they're the people that are going to excel this week. And that's why I've said before, it doesn't suit a long hitter, it doesn't suit a short hitter, it is sort of wide open. You see that with -- I don't think anyone here last week would have expected Si Woo Kim to win, but that's what happened, and that was more to do with how good his short game was. His short game was phenomenal over those four days.

But yeah, that's why it's a -- from Fred Funk to Tiger to Jason Day, but it always produces a great winner. It always produces a very deserving champion, and I'm sure this year will be no different.

Q. Is attitude here more important than most other tournaments and why?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah. It's a good -- it's a golf course that can frustrate you. I think that's what Pete Dye does so well. He can frustrate you by the design of his golf courses, and you feel like you're getting bad breaks, and that can get under your skin a little bit. So the more patient you can stay and the more accepting you can be of a bad bounce here or a runoff there, that's -- I think that's the same. It's not just here, I think every -- the more golf that I play and the more knowledge that I sort of pick up, people used to say that golf is -- I think the mental side of golf is way more important than the physical. You can struggle with your swing and struggle with your putting, but if your mental side is on point, you're going to have a chance to win every week.

Q. You seemed to like Pete's course in Indianapolis pretty good the first time you played.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, that was different. Everything sort of widened at about 300. I liked that one. That was good.

Q. Ian was in here earlier, I was wondering as somebody who is seen the Poults craziness up close, how fun has it been for you to observe the Poults Revival Tour this year?
RORY MCILROY: It's been fantastic. He's went through, he's went through a tough time with injury and then he's had a couple other things happen in his life that sort of I think are quite trying for him, so to see him come through the other side of it and to win in Houston was really cool. I was really happy for him. He's played really good this year, and he seems like he's came out with a lot of motivation and determination. I don't think it's a coincidence it's a Ryder Cup year, but I'm so happy for him.

Poults is one of the best guys out here. He's great company. I love when I'm paired with him because I know I'm going to have a great day regardless of what I shoot. So I have just been really happy for him. He's a really solid guy, family man, and hopefully he'll be a good addition to our Ryder Cup team come September.

Q. I know you're still trying to win your first one here, but there's never been a repeat winner here; at this point sort of seems like more than a statistical anomaly. As you kind of diagnose the course or a tournament, what do you maybe put that down to?
RORY MCILROY: I just think to win here you have to be so on. You can't -- there's some weeks where you look at even Jason last week, he would have admitted he didn't have his best stuff but he was still able to win. I think here you just have to have your best stuff. I think the guys up around the lead are all going to be playing well and are going to be able to take advantage of the opportunities they give themselves. So it's hard to be going to any event as the defending champion, so maybe more so this week for some reason, I don't know, but I think it would probably -- I mean, more to do with the golf course than anything else. But I guess you'd get a better answer from them, see how they felt coming back after winning. Hopefully I'll be able to tell you how it feels next year.

Q. This is a non-golf question. Being a Manchester United fan, I wanted to get your thoughts on and your message to Sir Alex Ferguson, first of all, but also give us an insight of the impact he had on you when he spoke to you guys at that Ryder Cup.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I mean, I was shocked to hear the news last weekend that he had been -- he went to hospital, and I'm just glad that he's pulling through and he's conscious now and that the procedure or the surgery went well apparently, so that's good. It's also funny to -- I read this morning that his first words were "how did Doncaster get on?" So that was pretty funny too. So he's just -- he's a great man. He's very, he's a very driven individual. He says complacency is a disease. That's sort of his big line. He hates complacency. He hates people resting on their laurels.

I've gotten to know Sir Alex pretty well over the years, whether it's been that Ryder Cup at Gleneagles or he came and did a charity thing with me in Dublin a couple years ago for the Irish Open, which was really good of him to do, and yeah, so hopefully he makes a speedy recovery, and I know everyone that has been in touch with him thinks the world of him and he's got a lot of people out there supporting him. So hopefully he's okay and he gets back to full fitness and full health soon.

Q. Can you tell us which holes you'll be using driver on and where you'll be using 3-wood or something else, not the par-3s but the rest?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, hopefully -- it would be a very windy day if I'm using driver on the 8th hole, but could happen. Let me see, I'll probably only hit -- defending upon the wind, one or two drivers on the front nine, on the 5th and the 9th. Then on the back nine there's a few more. I'll probably use it on 11, 14, 15, 16, and then maybe 18, depending upon the wind, but yeah, definitely more 2-irons and 3-woods off tees than driver this week.

Q. Depending upon the wind?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, wind direction. I know it's going to be pretty similar tomorrow. It's sort of out of the northwest and it was out of the northeast yesterday and today, so it will be probably a similar direction, and so probably five or six drivers.

Q. How would you rate the degree of difficulty of winning or losing here versus any other venue or tournament you've ever played in?
RORY MCILROY: Geez, I don't -- yeah, it's tough. It's the strongest field in golf. I think all top-50 players in the world are here most years. It's a golf course again where no one really has an advantage. So it's -- as you said, it's a wide-open -- or as someone said, it's a very wide-open field. You have to be on in all aspects of your game, so yeah, I would say it's right up there with the toughest to win for anyone. So you're able to call yourself a PLAYERS Champion, you know you've done something pretty special.

DOUG MILNE: Rory, as always, we appreciate your time and best of luck this week.

RORY MCILROY: Thank you.

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