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April 2, 2014

Rory McIlroy


DOUG MILNE:   Rory McIlroy, thanks for joining us for a few minutes here at the Shell Houston Open, making your fourth start in the event this week and four events so far year.  You've had a couple of Top-10s including a runner up near miss player finish in the Honda Classic.  With that, I'll just turn it over to you for some comments on being back here at the Golf Club of Houston.
RORY MCILROY:  Yeah, it's good to be back.  It's a tournament that I've always enjoyed, and, you know, played last year in the run up to Augusta, and then with it being directly the week before, it's a great way to prepare.  But it's also a great tournament and I love to -- I've been in contention quite a bit already this season and haven't quite finished the job and got the job done.  It's nice to get into contention again this week and try and knock one off before heading to Augusta.
But, you know, as long as I keep playing well and playing the way I have been and hopefully those opportunities will come along and I'll be able to take a few of them, but I'm just glad to be back.  The course is in great shape like it always is.  The greens are a little slow today, but I'm sure they'll speed them up as the week goes along.
Yeah, it's shaping up to be a good week.

Q.  Rory, talked to several players both last week in San Antonio and this week here in Houston.  They said they feel like this is the most wide open Masters in a decade.  You obviously haven't been here a decade, but do you feel like to you it's the most wide open that you've ever seen Augusta before you guys tee it up there?
RORY MCILROY:  Yeah.  I mean, not just the most wide open Masters, but the most -- I mean, you look at the winners on Tour the last, you know, few months, it's been very -- it's been a different guy each week.  It's almost like golf is waiting for someone to stamp their authority on the game and be that dominant player.
You know, we've seen players in the past like Tiger and Vijay to a certain point in the middle 2000, but winning nine, ten times a year.  Haven't seen much of that since, and, you know, it's harder to win out here.  There's so many more guys that have chances to win every time they tee it up.
So, yeah, I don't think it's just the Masters but golf in general is just very wide open at the moment, and I think a few guys need to sort of put their hands up and try and be, you know, the dominant players in this game because that's what people like to see.  It's great for the sport to have people who are up there week in, week out that win tournaments, and then that creates sort of rivalries, and that's something we haven't really had in golf for a couple of years.  Obviously when Tiger and Phil were going at it.
But it seems like there's so many more guys now that get themselves into contention and pop up and win.  And, you know, me personally as a fan of golf, it would be nice to see someone sort of break away.  I hope it's me (laughter).  I hope it's me as a fan of golf and fan of myself that can do that.  Yeah, golf at the minute is very wide open.

Q.  Rory, given what you're just saying about dominance and how people love to see a winner who carries the day, how do you think Tiger's absence now will affect the sport and the Tour?
RORY MCILROY:  It will definitely affect the sport.  I think golf is always better when Tiger Woods is in the conversation.  And even though he's not playing, he's still in the conversation, I guess, but it draws more people to the game when he plays, when he's in contention, when he's winning.
So, you know, we all have, you know, Tiger to thank for where the game is now, because, you know, he's brought TV ratings up, prize money up hugely from where it was before and he came on the scene.  So, it's great to have Tiger Woods in golf, and even though he hopefully will only be out for a short while, it's always -- it creates a bigger buzz when he's around.

Q.  Any positives for him not being around?
RORY MCILROY:  Didn't have to beat him.

Q.  Have you talked to Tiger, texted with him since the news of his surgery?  I'm kind of curious.
RORY MCILROY:  No.  No.  What do you say?  "Get well soon"?  Send him a card?  (laughter).  Yeah.  He's went through a lot in the past, but knee surgery, Achilles and all sorts.  I'm sure he'll put a hundred percent into his rehab and get back to full fitness and come out here when he's ready again.

Q.  How good is this course this week as far as prepping you for next week?
RORY MCILROY:  It's brilliant.  They get the fairway heights the same, the rough heights the same, the run-off around the greens.  Usually you get the green speeds pretty similar, there's a few greens that are sloppy like Augusta, but they were a little slow this morning, but I'm sure they'll speed them up as the week goes on.
It's perfect for that and perfect to -- just so you don't go to Augusta the next week and you're shocked by maybe how fast the greens are or how the rough runs off the greens.  It's good to prepare you for that and it's a good event.  There's five of the Top-10 players in the world here.  So it's going to be a good tournament and one that a lot of guys will want to win and play well, not just looking ahead to next week but just to win maybe their first Tour event of the year or get some FedExCup Points or world ranking points.

Q.  Rory, can you maybe walk us through kind of what was going through your head 11, 12 months ago compared to how you feel or maybe the difference is now going into your first Major?
RORY MCILROY:  It's a lot more calm, a lot more -- you know, I came off here -- I played Thursday, Friday, I guess over a year ago, because this was a week earlier, and I entered into San Antonio because I felt like I still need to play more to be sort of ready for Augusta.  And I was just a bit -- wasn't quite comfortable with everything, and coming into this year I've taken three weeks off.  It feels more normal the way it sort of going into Augusta, you know, 2011, 2012, I felt settled, comfortable, really happy with my game.
You know, I was in Augusta yesterday and Monday playing practice rounds and getting ready for that, and I didn't do that last year because I felt all I needed was competitive rounds in tournament play.
Yeah, it's been a great off-season.  I worked hard.  It's been a good start to the season.  I've had a couple chances to win already, and I haven't done that.  So it's a good problem to have being in contention and not getting the job done because at least you're putting yourself in a position to win.
It's been good to do that and just more happier about my game and about everything.  I don't have to worry about equipment stuff or do I need a driver that turns over more at Augusta, do I need this or that?  Everything is just more settled.

Q.  Just to follow up, what, if anything, did you take out of that final round at Honda?
RORY MCILROY:  I needed to -- I was going to say I needed to play more shots like I did on 18, obviously, but I needed to trust myself more, little bit more belief in what I was doing, because down the stretch I started to hit some ropy shots, shots I hadn't really hit basically for all that week.  So just more -- it was more mental, more belief, more trust, and when -- it was nice that when I had to, I was able to do it.  That's sort of what I learned from it.  As I said, hopefully get myself back into position like that this week.

Q.  Rory, you obviously enjoyed extraordinary success at a very young age.  Can you reflect at all what it might be like for a guy like Jimmy Walker who played for years and also Steve winning Sunday have breakthroughs like they've had?  Any thoughts you have on that and what that means, how golf is, et cetera?
RORY MCILROY:  Yeah.  It's a funny game.  You can go -- Jimmy Walker went 170-something starts without a win and wins three of his first eight this year.  So, I guess I haven't been in that position before where guys are out here for five, six, seven, eight years and haven't won are sort of playing well and maybe they have four, five, Top-10s a year and they make a great living and they work hard on their games.  But it must feel really rewarding, you know, for a guys like Jimmy who or Steven Bowditch who went that long and had the perseverance and patience, it must feel like a huge relief, you know, great -- it would only -- I don't know, I'm not in their shoes, but a victory to them, it might be even more special than someone that has won 20 titles on Tour.  Everyone is special, but to win for the first time in maybe a few years, it must be special.

Q.  It probably makes it easy for you to put what would be a temporary setback in a whole different perspective.
RORY MCILROY:  Of course.  Definitely.  When a guy wins, their whole schedule changes, they get -- they go to the Masters, they can -- you start to look at their schedules going forward and I don't really like this course so I might not play here, but I'll play there.  You can really set yourself a nice schedule that you want.  There's a lot of great upside for winning Tour events.

Q.  Any new equipment or tweaks to your equipment for Augusta in the past few weeks?
RORY MCILROY:  No.  I'm going to keep the same -- I might strengthen my 4-iron by a degree for the fourth hole because it's right in between a 3 and 4-iron for me.  I don't carry a 3-iron.  I like the four wedge set-up that I have at the moment.  I figure I'm going to have more wedges in my hands than 3-irons during the course of the year, so I might strengthen my 4-iron by a degree.
The last couple days playing off that back tee, it was just struggling to clear that front right bunker.  It's okay to the front left pin but to the back pins.  Apart from that, I always put a new lob wedge in, I put in it this week just to sort of break it in and for next week and that's really it.

Q.  What are the four wedge lofts?
RORY MCILROY:  47, 52, 56, 59.

Q.  Rory, from a mental perspective, how important is a good finish this week or is it all just kind of getting a feel right for Augusta?
RORY MCILROY:  I think it's important to finish well.  I think -- I don't think there's any better way to prepare than getting yourself into contention and playing golf under pressure because that's ultimately what you want to do next week.  And it would be nice to have that little bit of experience or not experience but, you know, having that going into Augusta from the week before, being in contention, knowing how you felt, maybe what tendencies you have when you're under pressure so that hopefully if and when you get into contention again next week, you maybe know how to handle it better, or if you did handle it well this week, keep it going.

Q.  Rory, the pundits as you say over there in Vegas establish you as a favorite for Augusta.  Do you consider yourself a favorite or the favorite going into Augusta?
RORY MCILROY:  I consider myself one of the favorites.  Yeah, I guess.  The favorite?  There's a lot of guys that play well at Augusta that seem to sort of show up every year.  I think guys that have kept going back there for, you know, ten, 15 years feel very comfortable on the course and they know how to get around.
Maybe somebody like Freddie Couples who seems to get there and play well every year, it's sort of -- if you knew the course and you're comfortable on it, you can do well.  I consider myself one of the favorites.  I'm not going so sit here and lie to you and say I'm not.  But I feel good about my game.  I feel pretty good about my chances and we'll see what happens.
DOUG MILNE:  Okay.  Rory, we appreciate your time as always.  Thanks a lot.
RORY MCILROY:  Thank you.

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