Bringing back the "buzz"
After his victories in the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship, the media bubble surrounding Rory McIlroy tended to be around his Nike endorsement deal or his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
It appeared to throw the former world No. 1 off his game.
McIlroy had a poor 2013, with just five top 10 finishes in 16 events. He tied for 25th at the Masters, tied for 41st at the U.S. Open, missed the cut at he Open Championship and pulled it together enough to tie for eighth at the PGA. No victories in anything on the PGA Tour.
This year? Much improved. He’s had top 25s in each of the nine Tour events he’s played and a victory at the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour late last month. But he wants that major championship feeling again.
“After the season I had in the majors last year, I was coming in this year and making them a real priority,” he said in his press conference on the eve of this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. “I want to get in contention. I want to feel the buzz of being there on the last day of majors and having a chance to win and be more consistent.”
McIlroy finished tied for eighth in the Masters this year. Close, but he said he was never really in the mix for the title. A back-nine 40 on Friday put him out of reach, and he had to shoot four under par on the weekend to get back in the top 10.
It’s been a trend this season. McIlroy is first on the PGA Tour in round one scoring (67.73 average), but 192nd (third from the bottom) in round two scoring (73.5). It was so noticeable that golf legend Jack Nicklaus brought it up to him when they met last week in Nicklaus’ Palm Beach office, asking McIlroy how he could “shoot 63 and then 78” - which is what the Northern Ireland native did at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, a course Nicklaus designed.
“I said, ‘I wasn’t meaning to, Jack. I’m trying not to,’” McIlroy said. “I don’t know if it’s because I’ve got off to such goof starts in tournaments where I may be thinking too much about my score, and I’m up near the leaderboard and I might be trying to push too much and keep it going.”
But a week prior in England, McIlroy shot 68-71-69-66, a much more consistent four rounds, to win the BMW PGA. It’s something he said he thought his game was “trending” towards.
“It was building up to something like that,” McIlroy said. “And it was nice to see some of the hard work that I put it pay off. There have been flashes of very good golf this year and golf that I know is capable of winning tournaments like (the U.S. Open). I just need to try to put it all together.”
One way he’s been attempting to get back on track - and it seems to be working - is, as he put it, “finding my love for the game again.” He said he wants to enjoy golf and just focus on that.
With the No. 1 world ranking changing hands pretty regularly the last few months, McIlroy was asked if he feels that he’s on track to get back to that number. He said it’s nice to be a part of the conversation again. It’s not his No. 1 goal.
But he still wants it.
“I can’t focus on that, I’ve just got to focus on playing good golf, trying to win golf tournaments and let the ranking take care of itself,” he said. “But of course I’ve got a desire to get back to No. 1 in the world. I’ve been there before, I know what it feels like. I want to get back there again.”
A win in this weekend’s U.S. Open would go a long way to putting McIlroy back up there. But for now, he just wants to be a regular 25-year-old and play golf.
“I’m no different than any other 25-year-old in the world,” he said. “I want to go out and see my friends, have some fun. And I’m really enjoying my golf at the minute, and just making that the No. 1 priority. That’s what I want to continue to do and I feel like, if I do that, it will give me a great chance to win some of these big tournaments coming up.”