Planet Golf — 07 March 2012 by GW staff and news services
McIIroy on golf, tennis and Tiger

News conference before the WGC- Cadillac Championship with the world’s newest No. 1 player, Rory McIIroy:

PAUL SYMES: Very warm welcome to the world No. 1, Rory McIlroy. The last 48 hours must have been pretty special I guess. Just how does it feel to be on top of the world?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, it doesn’t feel much different. It was a great feeling on Sunday just to win the tournament and with a couple of guys making a charge, it was nice to play pretty solid coming down the stretch and get the job done.

Yeah, it’s been nice to sort of get away from golf a little bit and reflect and sort of let it sink in. But looking forward to getting back at it this week, and excited to be back at Doral, one of my favorite stops of the year.

So yeah, all’s good.

PAUL SYMES: Must have had some nice messages; any sort of in particular stand out for you?

RORY McILROY: There’s been a lot. But yeah, I mean, people from all walks of life and different sports have reached out to me to say well done. So it’s very nice to have so many people watching you and encouraging you and supporting you.

PAUL SYMES: They say it’s tough to get at the top and even tougher to stay there; I guess in some ways the hard work starts now.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I’ll find out this week. It’s great to get to this position and obviously I’d love to stay here for as long as possible. I just need to concentrate on playing good golf, trying to win tournaments, and if I can do that, then the position I’m at in the World Rankings will hopefully take care of itself.

Q. Was there any shot you hit Sunday that was as nerve racking as the shots you hit in that rally last night with Maria?

RORY McILROY: No, I’ve never been so nervous in my life. No, I can hit a golf shot in front of a million people, but getting up there?? I mean, I wanted to hit a serve, but I was thinking, if I frame this into the crowd, it’s going to look so bad. (Laughter).

So just a little under-arm, over the net. Maria was nice, she hit it back to me at quite a gentle pace.

Q. You almost looked like you were mad that Caroline put you in that position. Were you just wishing that she had not done that?

RORY McILROY: Well, to be honest, it was because Maria had got someone from the crowd to dance with, and then Caroline turned to the crowd and said, is there any hot guys that want to dance with me. And I’m like, well, I don’t want anyone else dancing with you, so I put my hand up. Thank God she didn’t ask me to dance. I was much happier hitting a tennis shot (laughing).

Q. Can you just pick out one of the messages, like did you get one from Fergie or someone like that?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, got one from Fergie. Got one from Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, a few of the United boys. I mean, I got, I got a lot. Greg Norman sent one to me. He left me a voicemail and a message. He said some very complimentary things. He left me a voicemail after the Match Play, as well, last week, didn’t get a chance to catch up with him, but that was very nice of him to reach out. There was a lot. Again, just nice people just to congratulate you and give their words of support and encouragement.

Q. A couple of things. Did you have a moment to yourself, no one else, just to you, where you sat down and said, I did it, or jumped up-and-down or looked in the mirror and got excited about what it meant, just your own little quiet moment, celebration? And secondly, G-Mac was saying the other day about, you know, a few years ago, maybe he couldn’t quite — maybe there was a question mark will Rory, but that now in the last little bit of time is gone, he’s the real deal. Do you feel that you’re the real deal; that you can now stay at this position?

RORY McILROY: There’s a couple of points on Sunday night when I was flying up to New York where I just was sort of sitting there on the plane and reflecting on the day and reflecting on the last couple of weeks where I obviously had a chance to do it in Arizona and didn’t quite, and was able to do it the next week.

And in the way that I did it on Sunday with Tiger making the charge, it was almost more satisfying to do it that way, knowing that I held up under pretty intense pressure when I needed to; Tiger posting a score and having to just play some smart and solid golf on the way in to finish off, and I was able to do that.

Closing out tournaments and knowing what you need to do at the right time all just comes with experience. And I feel like I’ve had a lot of experiences where I could have won tournaments and I haven’t, and it’s taking what you need from those close finishes and trying to do something a little bit better. What saved me on Sunday was my short game and my putting. I made some really key up?and?downs when I needed to and held a couple of really crucial putts, and that was the difference from maybe 18 months ago.

Q. You mentioned Tiger, after the way that tournament finished, there was the inevitable talk of a possible rivalry between you and Tiger. What qualifies as a golf rivalry these days, and could you ever envision yourself in a sort of golf rivalry with him?

RORY McILROY: I don’t know, there’s so many. I think it’s more the media that build up the rivalries more than anyone else.

To be honest in golf, you can have a rival if you want, but at the end the day, your biggest rival is a golf course. You have to beat that. You have to be able to beat the golf course more often than not, and that’s all you’re trying to do.

Ultimately you’re going to have to beat people coming down the stretch on Sundays, and whether it’s Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Lee Westwood or Luke Donald or Martin Kaymer or whoever; you know, I would never really want to say that I’m in a rivalry with someone. I just want to go out there and play good golf and solid golf. And if I can do that, then people can make the rivalries up themselves. If people want to say there’s a rivalry, so be it, but I don’t see myself as anyone’s rival out here. I just see myself as Rory McIlroy and going out there and trying to play good golf and winning tournaments at the end of the day.

Q. When you step on to the first tee at Augusta this year, how different will it be compared to a year ago?

RORY McILROY: It will be very different. I wasn’t necessarily under the radar last year, but you know, I’ll be going in there with a lot more attention, a lot of scrutiny because of what happened last year; the spotlight will be on me, and it’s something that I’ll just have to deal with.

So it will be a little different, but I’ll try to take the same approach and approach it like I did last year for?? at least for three days, anyway. (Laughing).

Q. Similar question, sort of how different will you feel when you go up there in a few weeks compared to a year ago? And secondly, do you feel that was sort of a defining moment in terms of the level of maturity in your personality or play or anything like that, looking back on it?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was definitely a defining moment. It could have been the crossroads of my career. I could have did what I did on Sunday at Augusta and let it affect me and let it get to me, and maybe go into a slump or feel down or feel sorry for myself.

But you know, I had enough good people around me not to let that happen. It was a big crossroads for me in my career, and I was able to go down the right path and do the right things to put everything right and win the next major after?? all I wanted to do was put myself in the position again just to see if I had learned and see if I could handle it better.

You know, it was a little easier obviously going out on Sunday at the U.S. Open because I had such a big lead, but I felt a lot more relaxed and a lot more sure of myself that day than I did the Sunday of Augusta.

Q. Along those same lines, can you go back to Sunday last year, and at any point around the turn, 7,8,9, 10,11, did you look up at the leaderboard and try to keep track of what was going on?

RORY McILROY: To be honest, one of the bad things I did, I just was trying to keep ahead of everyone else, which you know, instead of maybe having a number in my head and say, right?? I think I started the day at 12?under. I said, right, if I can get to 15?under, just have that as a target, and that’s all your thinking about.

All you’re trying to think about is trying to get to 15. You’re not thinking about Charl making eagle on 3. You’re not thinking of Tiger hitting on front nine. You’re not thinking about all these guys you’re trying to keep ahead of. All you’re thinking about is that target of 15, and that’s something that I’ve earn learned from and something that I’ve tried to put into practice now.

Q. As you continue to as send, there are going to be more inevitable comparisons to Tiger because of everything he’s accomplished, and as you probably know, Tiger always looked at Jack and that was his benchmark. Did you look at him when you were coming up a little bit, and think about comparing yourself to him down the road and accomplishing the things he’s accomplished? Are you prepared for those comparisons that will continue as we go?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, again, I’m going to let other people make the comparisons. I’m not going to try and compare myself to anyone else. I’ve never said that I want to be the next anyone. I just want to be the first Rory McIlroy. However good that turns out to be, then I’ll try my best to win tournaments and to win majors and to be best player in the world.

But it’s never like I set out to win 18 majors like Tiger has. I’ve always just wanted to win golf tournaments, ultimately to win majors, and to be No. 1 in the world. And I’ve been lucky enough to win a major and get to the No. 1 position, but there’s still a long road ahead and I feel like I can accomplish a lot more.

Q. Minor scheduling question. The Tour goes back to Congressional this year and coincide with the Irish Open, I assume you’ve made a decision, was it difficult at all and what’s your reasoning?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, of course it was difficult. You always want to go back to places where you’ve had success at before. Obviously I’ve got great memories from Congressional last year. But you know, having the Irish Open being played in Portrush in my home country and close to home, it was?? to be honest, it was a tough decision to make, but I’ll hopefully have plenty of chances to play Congressional again and play the AT&T.

The Irish Open might only be at Royal Portrush for a couple of years and it would be a shame to miss out on that. It will be a great atmosphere, and there’s such a buzz back home about it already, so I think it will be a great event.

Q. This is the 15-year anniversary of Tiger’s first win at the Masters where he won so convincingly; where did you watch that? What do you remember about that? What impact did that have on you and your career?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I remember it quite well actually. I remember watching it with my dad at home. I think still back in those days, it was the BBC coverage only covered the back nine I think.

But yeah, I remember he went out in 40 on Thursday, went back in 30, shot a couple of rounds of 65 and 66 on Friday and Saturday. I remember I had the tape of it, the video, the Masters tape of 1997 and watched that all the time.

So, yeah, I mean, that did have a big impact on me. That was obviously Tiger’s first major, and he had, you know, announced himself to the world a few months before that, but that was his first major and the sort of iconic image of him coming off the last green and giving his dad a hug; it did a lot for me. I remember it quite well.

Q. When is the last time someone in golf suggested that you were maybe too young to accomplish something, and when is the last time that maybe you thought you were too young to accomplish something?

RORY McILROY: I don’t know. My dad always said to me, if you’re?? well, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. I’ve never let anyone tell me that I was too young to do this or too young to do that. I felt at some times last year, a lot of things happened to me so quickly in such a short space of time; it didn’t matter if I was 22 or 32, a lot of things happened in a short space of time.

No, I mean, I don’t think I’m too?? I feel like I’ve handled everything pretty well. And I’ve definitely matured a lot and I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of years. So everything that’s happened to me has been hugely positive and you know, it’s nice to be sitting here at 22 and have the No. 1 ranking and have won a major.

Q. You’ve been No. 1 I think for about 47 hours now. Just wondering if your goals have sort of changed at all because of that, or more specifically, in the past year or two in terms of accomplishments?

RORY McILROY: No, again, I think it goes back to just trying to win tournaments. This is a very big tournament. This is a World Golf Championship and it’s my last event before the Masters. I’d love to give myself a chance to win here again this week, and you know, go into that three?week break with a lot of confidence and looking forward to getting back to Augusta.

So my goals and my attitude haven’t changed. I just want to go about my business and get myself into contention in golf tournaments and try and win them.

Q. Different topics. We are here from Sweden, Swedish media. As far as I know, the venue has not changed, the date has not changed; can you explain why you pulled out of Nordea Masters that you had committed to?

RORY McILROY: It’s the week before the U.S. Open, and I felt like if I had played, I wasn’t giving myself the best chance to defend.

Q. So it had to do with the fact that you won last year that you pulled out?

RORY McILROY: No, it’s just the fact that I feel like the best way to prepare for a major for me personally is to take off the week before and go to the venue.

I realized that quite quickly after I committed, and you know, it’s unfortunate that I’m not able to play, but I try and base my schedule around the majors and that was the main reason.

Q. Messages from Wayne Rooney, Alex Ferguson; wonder what previous engagement, if any, have you had with them? They are icons of your boyhood; do you have to do a bit of a double take on the level of superstardom you’ve achieved?

RORY McILROY: Not really. I mean, obviously I’ve been to Old Trafford many times and met them briefly, but I haven’t spent a great length of time with them.

Again to have their support and for them to reach out to you and say congratulations, yeah, it is pretty surreal knowing, yeah, looking, watching Man United for so many years, and then having Alex Ferguson send you a text message or Wayne Rooney or whatever. It’s a nice position to be in.

Q. Just going back to something you said earlier, was there a bit of symmetry to you that it was Tiger who had the clubhouse lead on Sunday and basically you had to beat him in order to win the tournament and to get to No. 1?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, I was probably thinking to myself, could it not just have been anyone else (laughing).

I don’t think so. It definitely made Sunday a little more difficult or a little more interesting. You know, it would have been the same had anyone have posted 10?under. Tom Gillis finished 10?under, as well, with the birdie on the last.

I can sit here and lie and say that it didn’t feel better to have Tiger post a score and to be able to play solid; it maybe made it feel a little sweeter than if it had of been someone else.

Q. I was actually specifically talking about when you said when you were a little kid you and watched that tape of that Masters over and over, and like here is that guy that you were as a seven? or eight-year-old looking at, and here he is at 36, and that’s the guy that you beat.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it’s I suppose a little bit of a coincidence, I’m not sure. But yeah, it just happened to be him on that given day, and it was nice to be able to finish the job off.

Q. Do you feel any pressure this week to hold off Luke and have your reign be a week?

RORY McILROY: No, not really. Again I’m coming in here trying to win this tournament. I’m not trying to come in here and calculate what I need to do to stay No. 1. I’m coming in here to try my best and to shoot four good scores and hopefully that adds up at the end of the week to put me somewhere close to the top of the leaderboard.

I don’t feel any pressure to try and keep it for any length of time, because it’s, I know I play well, I’ll hopefully keep it for awhile, and if someone else plays well and wins a couple of tournaments, they might take over. It’s something that you’re sort of in control of, but it’s something, again, that you’re not, because you can’t control what anyone else does. But obviously you can control what you do and the best way to do that is just to try and go out and win tournaments.

Q. Kind of a follow?up question from earlier about last year at the Masters. When you were on the front nine and you were hearing all the roars around you and you were kind of struggling, not struggling, but holding on?

RORY McILROY: I was struggling. (Laughter).

Q. Okay, you were struggling. And you were hearing all the roars, do you remember what it felt like or can you describe what was going through your head?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, again, it was a big mistake that I made that day was thinking too much about what everyone else was doing, instead of concentrating on myself and concentrating on, again, maybe thinking about setting myself a target or setting myself a score. Because when you do that, it focuses your mind on yourself. I mean this, game, you have to be very selfish and be very?? especially in situations like that, you can’t let your mind wander and think about what anyone else is doing.

Q. Do you feel that not getting up-and-down on 8 was a big missed opportunity on that front nine?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, you know, to birdie 7, and I had two great shots into the 8th hole. It just ran over the back of the green, and to not get up?and?down there was a missed opportunity to build on the momentum that I had gained on the 7th. So, yeah, but even if I had birdied the 8th hole, it probably wouldn’t have made me feel any more comfortable, but you never know.

Q. Just having the No. 1 ranking, it can be a two-edged sword perhaps in that there’s a lot of pressure that comes with it, as well. How do you view it? Is it something that you welcome, a way of extending your lead at the top, or there’s only one way you can go which is down??

RORY McILROY: Thanks. (Laughter).

Q. It was a burden for Martin Kaymer, for example, he said it was quite tough to deal with.

RORY McILROY: Depends what type of mind you have and if you thrive in the spotlight or if you welcome it. I feel like I do thrive in the spotlight, and I like the attention. Not saying that I’m an attention seeker, but I like to, you know you’re doing something right when you’re in the spotlight. I’d love to keep myself here for a while. But yeah, I know that it’s inevitable that I’ll lose it at some point. That’s for sure. I just hope that it’s a little further away. But, yeah, I don’t feel like I’m under any pressure to keep the No. 1, because that’s not what I’m?? that’s not what I play golf for. It’s not to keep the No. 1 ranking. It’s about winning tournaments, and if I win tournaments, the ranking will take care of itself.

Q. You mentioned having good people around you after Augusta and that helped to you get through all that. I mean, do you still take a lot of advice from people? Do you have a few people that you lean on particularly, and do you feel you need that, or has that last year been a year where you can manage yourself in terms of your emotional involvement with it and so on?

RORY McILROY: I’ve never been one to go out and seek advice. After Augusta, there was nice pouring in from everywhere, and it’s just?? you sort of?? I mean, you take it on board; the stuff that you might not think is relevant, you just sort of let it go. Even if you pick up one or two things that some people might say, you hold on to that and maybe try to put it in practice. Most of the time, I try to figure things out on my own. I think that’s the best way to do it.

Q. This is admittedly silly, but are you much of a video game player, and if you are, have you ever played that Masters video? I think it’s the Tiger Woods one.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was last year’s version. No, I haven’t. Maybe I should. I don’t know.

Q. I think you said that you were taking three weeks off leading into the Masters now after this. What are you going to do in those three weeks? Are you going to go there and play the course? Are you going to go have vacation? What does your schedule look like for the next three weeks leading into it?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, so next week I have my coach, Michael Bannon, over from Northern Ireland. I’ll spend a week with him.

The week after that, I will spend a little bit of time down in Miami. Caroline is playing a tournament down here.

And then the week before the Masters, I’ll go up to Augusta for a couple of days, do what I usually do, map the course out and sort of do my own diagrams and my own drawings of the greens, slopes. You sort of know where the pin positions are going to be for all four days, so you sort of reacquaint yourself with those, take different putts from all areas of the greens.

Then after that, I’ll go back down to West Palm Beach and practice for a few more days and then head back up to Augusta on Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Q. The 13th hole is the longest par 3 on the golf course, just wondering how do you attack that hole for the four days here? Obviously it’s not exactly a birdie hole. How do you play that hole?

RORY McILROY: It’s sort of one of those par 3s that if you can play it in even par for the week, you’re very happy and you just get out of there. It comes after a par 5, the 12th, where it’s a bit of a birdie chance. You know, if you can birdie that, you just try and hit it on to the green anywhere and take your three and run. Because usually it’s down winds, so it’s very hard to hold the green, especially if it’s firm. You’ve got to punch it short and let it run on. You can get an inconsistent bounce, especially with the bermuda.

Yeah, it’s a difficult par 3 and it’s one of the holes out there that you just try and hit the middle of the green and take your two putts and get out of there. And if you make a 2, it’s a bonus and if you make a 4, you might lose a little bit of ground on the field, but there will be plenty of other guys doing, that as well.

Q. What about 15, much shorter, is that one where it’s green light, get the momentum going?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it could be. Again, depends on the firmness of the greens. They are very narrow, shallow greens, so you have to get your distance control right. Yeah, it’s only a short iron in, so you could view that as a birdie hole and obviously the hole after, if you get the right wind, you can drive the green. There’s a couple of birdie holes in a row there.

Obviously 17 can play tough if the wind blows in a certain direction, and obviously 18 is one of the most difficult finishing holes on TOUR.

It’s an interesting final few holes. You’ve got some chances where you can pick some shots up, but you can also give a few shots away. I think it’s an exciting finish to the golf course.

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