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April 6, 2021

Rory McIlroy

Augusta, Georgia, USA

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. I'd like to welcome Rory McIlroy to the media center. Rory, obviously the course is very different than it was last year. But you must take huge pleasure out of the fact that you finished last year's tournament with three rounds at 14-under par, and it must give you great confidence coming into this week.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it does. You know, as you said, the golf course is playing much differently this year than it did in November, which is to be expected. Obviously different weather conditions, and trying to get the overseed on this golf course to grow in that quickly for last year's tournament was a bit of a stretch. But obviously with more time and better growing conditions and weather, the course is in perfect shape.

Obviously it's very dry out there, very sunny, and the greens are already starting to get pretty firm. So yeah, this week's going to be a huge premium on accuracy, on landing your golf ball on your numbers and being precise with your iron play. And the ball is not hitting and stopping. So you're inevitably going to miss a few greens, and scrambling is going to be key, too.

Yeah, it's certainly a different test than it was a few months ago.

Q. Wondering what was the deciding factor for you to bring in Pete to look at your swing, Pete Cowen, and what exactly are you guys working on?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, so I think -- I thought with Pete, I think it was sort of it felt comfortable because I've known him for so long. I worked with Pete when I was 13, or from the age of 13 during Irish sort of national weekends, and he was a consultant for the team. It's not as if it felt like we were getting to know each other for the first time. We've known each other for a while.

I just thought with what I have been sort of struggling with or trying to find a grasp with my swing, Pete likes to get his students to do what I was trying to feel I was doing, and he's worked with a bunch of different players, and he's got a lot of knowledge and a lot of wisdom.

It just felt like a comfortable fit for me. That's the reason I brought him in. It's basically just about trying to understand the body movements a little bit more and sort of understanding why certain shots happen and how to fix those on the fly and how to, even during rounds, okay, if you have a better understanding of what you're doing, then you can start to manage it better, even if things don't feel quite the way you want them to. So that's the simple version of why we started working together.

Q. Was it a tough choice, given how long you've known Michael and how much success you guys have had together?

RORY McILROY: Of course it is, it's a very tough choice. But as I said a couple weeks ago in Austin, it's not as if that relationship has changed in any way. You know, Michael is still a part of the team. You know, it's just an extra set of eyes to seeing a few things; that I just felt bringing Pete in can only help.

Q. Tiger has missed this event before this year, but does this feel different given the severity of the accident and his injuries and age, and if you have some concern of what might come of him in the next few years?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I don't -- any time Tiger Woods tees it up in a golf tournament, it's better. It's better for the tournament. It's better for the players that are involved. It's better for everyone.

Unfortunately, he's not here this year. You know, hopefully, if his recovery goes well, who knows, he could be back in 12 months' time. But yeah, he's always missed when he doesn't play in these big events, and, you know, that doesn't change this week, whether it's to do with his back or his leg or whatever it is. I know he's at home and he's fully focused on the recovery process, and I feel like he's mentally strong enough to get through that. And once he does, broken bones heel, and he's just got to take it step by step.

But, you know, I know he'd love to be here, and I'm sure he's going to put everything he has into trying to be ready to play here next year.

Q. Have you actually gone to see him, or have you just kind of talked to him?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I went to see him a few -- I guess it was the Sunday before the Match Play. I went over and saw him. Spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him. It was good to see him in decent spirits and actually not as, you know -- like when you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, it's like, you think he's going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that.

A few of us that live down in South Florida went to see him. I'm sure he appreciates that. And, again, as I said, everyone would love to see him back out here again. I think myself, J.T., Rickie, DJ, Brooks, all those guys down there, we all have a responsibility to try to keep his spirits up and keep him going and try to get him back out here.

Q. When you look at this course, the last ten years, you've had good stuff and bad stuff. Which memories come back to you, the good or the bad? What's the balance of it?

RORY McILROY: The good. I think the good is always -- they're the memories you want to keep and you want to hold onto. Whether it's the great stuff from 2011 or I guess the charge I put in the Saturday in 2018, but you have to take your lessons from the -- from the not so good stuff, as well, right. I played in the final group in 2016 with Jordan on the Saturday. Didn't go quite the way I wanted it to.

Obviously there's been another few rounds here where I've sort of put myself behind the 8-ball not being able to get any momentum. But they are all learning lessons and you just try to go out there the next time and do a little bit better, and that's all I can do is go out there and try my best.

Q. I'm wondering with everything you've been working on over the last month or six weeks, have your expectations this week changed at all or have you changed up any routines from what you've done in past years? Are you trying something different this week?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, a little bit. I think I've -- I didn't come up here to play any practice rounds last week. I just flew in Sunday. Had a good practice session here. It was pretty windy down in Florida the last week or so, so it was nice to get up here and practice in some benign conditions and work on some things.

Played 18 yesterday, nine today. I'll probably play nine tomorrow. That's maybe a little different from previous years.

Yeah, look, I'm trying to view what I'm doing with my golf game on a -- I'm trying to see the big picture here. I'm not all focused on -- I'm obviously focused on this week, but it's bigger than that. It's a journey, right, and it's a journey to try to get back to playing the game the way I know that I can play the game.

So obviously this week is very important, but I'm still looking beyond that. I'm just at the start of a journey here that I know will get me back to where I want to be.

Q. Do you understand some people maybe being concerned that you, such a natural player and natural artist, is now going down what it looks like is a technical route and technical things?

RORY McILROY: No, actually, I think if I were to explain it in depth, it's actually very simple. I'm actually getting away from a lot of technical thoughts. I'm actually going the other way. I've sort of simplified it down to just making the right body movements and instead of trying to get myself to get the club into certain positions. So if anything, I feel like I've simplified the whole process.

Q. Had that become a problem? Was there too much technical garble in your mind?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure, and not as much understanding of what I was doing. I think that was the thing. When you don't understand why you're hitting certain shots, you can become lost and you can start to think of all sorts of stuff.

And I felt like every time I was going to the range, I was trying something different. Where now I feel like I'm on a path that's a little more structured and I have a better understanding of why I'm doing things and why certain shots do what they do and why certain movements produce a golf shot.

You know, so I think that's been a big thing.

Q. As I'm sure you're aware, outside of the gates here, the state of Georgia has been in the news recently for its controversial new voting law, and Major League Baseball just last week pulled the All-Star Game, of course, out of Atlanta. With that in mind, is your sport doing enough to combat this law, especially with the game's stated efforts on diversity and inclusion?

RORY McILROY: I think so. I have to be respectful and somewhat careful what I say because I'm not a citizen of this country, but I certainly think all great countries and democracies are built on equal voting rights and everyone being able to get to the ballot boxes as easily as possible. Yeah, that's all I can really say about it.

I thought the PGA TOUR put out a great statement at the start of this week about it all. Me as a PGA TOUR member and as a golfer, we go to a lot of different communities, and obviously THE TOUR Championship is in Atlanta, but I think what the PGA TOUR have done with the East Lake Foundation and the rejuvenation project that's happened in that community in Atlanta has been a wonderful thing that the PGA TOUR has been involved with.

Yeah, look, I'm all for getting people to get out and vote and to have a great democracy, and I've chosen to live in this country because I believe this country is the best country in the world. And so I -- you know, America is the land of opportunity, and it's the American dream. You work hard; you get rewarded. So I believe in all of that stuff.

But yeah, I'm all for people being able to have the right to vote and to be able to do it in the easiest way possible.

Q. In the sort of annals of trash talking, especially here in the Masters in the practice rounds, is the Champions Dinner fair game for those guys that are not part of it? J.T. talked about it before that sometimes golfing with Tiger and Fred Couples, you know, they would make sure without really making sure that he knew where they were going to be. Is it something you think about or you wonder what it would be like to be there, and is it fair game? Have you been needled about not being there?

RORY McILROY: No, actually, I haven't, which -- I think Tuesday night is a wonderful tradition at the Masters, and everyone knows what goes on with the Champions Dinner, and of course I think everyone in this field that isn't a part of that dinner would love to be a part of it.

You know, I just think it's so cool that you have all these former champions from different generations getting around a table and sharing some really cool stories. I think that's one of the cool things about winning the Masters is being able to go back to that dinner each and every year.

That's the -- they are the cool perks about winning a green jacket, right. It's being able to come back here every year, enjoying this week. So yeah, I'd obviously love to be able to be a part of that one day. And it could be the year where everything clicks and I'm the one hosting that dinner next year. You never know.

Q. Have you thought about what would be on the menu?

RORY McILROY: No, I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Q. Lee Trevino said no golfer is born with being good with every club. In your case it seems like sometimes you have it all going on at your best. Has the trouble with the short approaches and wedges mystified even you as how that has been an elusive thing for you at times to dial in?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think it's more just a -- I've always thought the thing that makes me a great driver of the golf ball is also the thing that sometimes makes me not be as good with the wedges. It's a different action and it's a different sequence of movements.

But I'm working on it. I work on it hard. It might be a part of the game that doesn't come as easily to me or players like me. But it's not from a lack of trying or a lack of practice or a lack of work at it.

So I'm working on it and I feel like I'm on the right direction. I've made some pretty good strides over the last few weeks, and, you know -- but as I said, it's only a start. I've made a start at it, and I'm excited about it and I'm enthusiastic about being on this journey. And yeah, I'm not saying I'm going to be a Zach Johnson and I'm going to wedge it like him for the rest of my career, but if I can get a little bit closer to being like Zach, then I'll be very happy.

Q. Is that the focus with Pete?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, because it's the same thing, if you get the movements and body actions right with chipping and pitching, then you have it with the full game, anyway. So it's about going back to basics and making half-swings and making sure that you can sync those up, and if you can sync those up, then it's easy to just lengthen your swing a little bit and go from there.

Q. Pete said yesterday he wants to focus less on how great you were and more on how great you can be. In your mind what does that future player look like?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I did a lot of this -- I feel like there's been a lot of looking back to try to go forward instead of just saying, okay, this is where we are, this is the present, this is what you've got to work with, let's go forward from here.

There's been a lot of, oh, well, back in 2014 I did this or look at this. You know, that's a long time ago now and you can't change the past. You can't -- it's not as if you can just magically delve back into it and bring it all back to life.

Yeah, Pete and I had a conversation about that. This is me and this is what you have to work with and we go from here.

I think that golfer going forward is just a little more knowledgeable about what he does and how he swings the club and the movements that he needs to make to basically hit three shots, right: Hit a draw, hit a fade, hit one straight. That's all you need to do in the game of golf. It's not that hard. It seems it at times.

And that's really it. Just more of an understanding of what I'm doing and being able to immediately address, okay, this shot happened because of this and I'm going to make sure that's not going to happen again for the rest of the round.

And I think being a little bit more in control of what I do; playing a little more conservatively, you know, taking the big numbers out of play, maybe taking a couple of more clubs into certain greens and hitting it softer, controlling the ball flight, yeah, just being a little bit more in control of everything. I think that's the golfer I want to -- a few more three-quarter shots, not hitting everything flat-out. That's the sort of golfer that I want to be going forward.

Q. You're going to be playing with Jon Rahm the first two days, new father. How difficult was that, and what advice would you have for him?

RORY McILROY: My first round as a dad, I shot 64, so (laughter) he's got that to live up to.

I mean, he's probably just had the greatest few days of his life, right. It's such a cool feeling. From the reports I hear, Kelly is doing well and the baby is doing well. He can at least come here in a state of mind knowing everything is okay at home and he can concentrate on what he has to do here, get a few nights sleep, and then obviously go back and be a dad.

But yeah, you're riding high. There's so many emotions that are involved. But I think Jon's an awesome player and he's played well here over the last couple years, and I'm sure he's going to handle everything really well. I don't feel like that's going to distract him at all. I think he's had a great few days and everything's good. If you can sort of just keep that mindset going into this week, then you know, being here and being relaxed and maybe having your mind not fully on Augusta and the Masters and the green jacket is not a bad thing.

Q. You talk about your journey a lot here, and I'm wondering where on the list of important things you'd like to check off that Grand Slam is, obviously which would mean winning here. You've had a number of goes at it. I'm wondering if maybe the further away you get from those first couple of times you tried, whether maybe the pressure internally and externally is a little bit less and frees you up a little bit?

RORY McILROY: I would agree with that. I think if I contrast my few weeks leading into the 2015 Masters, coming off the summer in 2014 and going for the Grand Slam and my third major in a row and all that, it feels a little more relaxed this week, which, as I said, isn't a bad thing.

Yeah, I would have loved to have done it at this point, but I realize I've still got plenty more years to do it. But yeah, look, if I were able to do it, I'd join a very small list of golfers in history that have been able to do it. So I know where it would put me in the game and how cool it would be, and I would love to do it one day.

But for me to do that, I just have to go out and try to play four good rounds of golf on this golf course, which I've played a bunch of really good rounds on this golf course before, but just not four in a row. That's the challenge for me. And if I can do that and get my head in the right -- get my head in the right place and feel like my game's where it needs to be, then I have no doubt that I can -- that I can put it all together.

Q. This is connected to that. You've talked to us the last few years about trying to peak for big tournaments by either treating them like any other week, or really then circling them on the calendar. I'm wondering where you've settled on that at this point.

RORY McILROY: I think the circling them on the calendar is probably the best way to go. I was thinking about this. So I went over to Tiger's house a few weeks ago to see him, and in his family room he's got his trophy cabinet and it's his 15 major trophies. I said, "That's really cool. Where are all the others?"

He said, "I don't know." I go, "What?" He said, "Yeah, my mom has some, and a few are in the office and a few are wherever."

I was driving home, and I was thinking -- I mean, he talked -- that's all he cared about, all he cared about. So how easy that must have felt for him to win all the others. That was just always in my mind, he talked about these are the four weeks that matter. So the weeks that didn't matter, you know, he racked them up at a pretty fast clip.

But I'm just thinking to myself, how easy must that have felt for him if all he cared about were four weeks a year. The other stuff must have been like practice. So that's like a really -- that's a cool perspective to have, right.

Yeah, that's all I could think about on the way home. And I was glad he was okay, too (laughter).

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Rory. Play well this week.

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