By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Rory McIlroy didn't need to win last week in Australia, but it certainly didn't hurt.
"I felt like I saw enough good golf in there to know that it was very close, and it wasn't going to be long before I did win," the former world No. 1 said Wednesday from the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. "What I was happy with the most was the limited amount of times that I have gotten in contention this year, I have played well. I have played well down the stretch. I've played well under pressure, and that is something that I really have improved on the last few years."
Of course just getting in contention was the problem far more often than not for McIlroy.
McIlroy struggled from the outset in 2013, missing the cut in his first start of the year and getting bounced in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in his next.
A week later, he withdrew from The Honda Classic, walking off the golf course in the middle of the second round and later citing a toothache and then mental fatigue.
He wasn't a factor in the year's first two major championships and missed the cut in the third. At the PGA Championship, McIlroy tied for eighth and showed flashes of his old self.
But it wasn't until a birdie on the final hole of the Australian Open that McIlroy finally ended a year-long winless drought.
In the losing, however, came plenty of lessons -- most notably that McIlroy can be too hard on himself.
"I feel like I'm emotionally connected to my golf game in terms of, if I play bad, I'll be in a bad mood," he said. "If I play well, I'll be in a good mood.
"Sometimes I feel like I need to differentiate that. The way I play golf shouldn't determine who I am as a person. That's sort of been the case sometimes this year."
It's an easy trap to fall into.
But it can also be a difficult one to get out of.
Even the current No. 1 player in the world has experienced his share of ups and downs despite a historic career.
"As far as battling a slump, that's just part of playing golf," said Tiger Woods. "You play golf long enough, you're going to go through it. We're always going to dip into those periods where we don't play well, don't hit the ball well, don't putt well, things just don't go the right way.
"Next thing you know a round that should be in the 60s is now 73 or 74 and you're missing a cut."
Throw in changes by McIlroy in equipment, management, constant speculation over a high-profile relationship and it was a perfect storm of struggle and frustration.
At the other end, though, McIlroy figured out he didn't always have to play perfect golf.
"I feel like for me to be happy I need to play sort of pretty golf," he said. "There are so many different ways to play this game. That is something I need to do a little bit more of. I need to play the ugly golf better and manage my game better so when I'm not playing that well, I can still shoot around par or a couple under. It doesn't always have to be pretty."
But after winning last week and with 2014 not far away McIlroy had plenty reason to smile in what will be his final start of this year.
"I'm in a great mood," he said. "I'm happy."
By Dr. Gregg Steinberg, Special to PGATOUR.COM
Every golf fan was treated to spectacular shot-making during the final round of the Australian Open. Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott were battling it out like two prize fighters on top of their game. Both were hitting prodigious drives and laser like irons at the pins on almost every hole. Unfortunately, only one could be victor. McIlroy made a timely birdie on the difficult 18th to sneak out the title from Scott.
Amazingly, this was McIlroy’s first title for this season. The golf world was expecting much more, given his blistering performance in 2012 in which he was voted the PGA TOUR Player of the Year, won four events including a major, as well as had the No. 1 world ranking in his pocket. Unfortunately for the golf fans in the world, his game went south, very south. However, McIlroy’s trial and tribulations on the links gives us some very good mental game lessons:
1. Expect some highs and lows throughout a season. If McIlroy can go into a bit of a slump, with his amazing talent, then anyone can. But your mental game key is to remain calm and don’t panic when you are having a low in your golf game life cycle. Realize that is normal and allow it to eventually pass. However, if you do the opposite and begin to lose confidence, and perhaps overhaul your swing, then you may get into a much longer slumping pattern that could take months, even years to recover.
2. Keep your confidence with small steps. We know in sports psychology research that confidence comes from having good performances. You can only fake confidence for so long. McIlroy mentioned that his confidence started to build with some strong finishes of late. Because of those good performances, he had the confidence to stay patient and squeak out a win “Down Under.”
Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a regular guest every Tuesday on “Talk of the Tour” heard on the Sirius/XM PGA TOUR radio. He is a tenured professor of sports psychology and has been the mental game coach for many PGA TOUR players. Dr. Gregg is the author of the best selling golf psychology book, MentalRules for Golf. Inquire about coaching as well as get your autographed copy at www.drgreggsteinberg.com
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy's victory Sunday in the Emirates Australian Open helped him avoid joining a small group of players connected by a dubious distinction. Only two men -- Greg Norman (1991) and Tiger Woods (2010) -- have gone winless in a year they started as the world's top-ranked player (the Official World Golf Ranking began in April 1986). The Australian Open was McIlroy's second-to-last start of the season; he also is playing this week's Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
The Australian Open also was McIlroy's first win since the European Tour's DP World Tour Championship in November 2012. He won five times worldwide in 2012, including the PGA Championship and two FedExCup Playoffs events (Deutsche Bank Championship, BMW Championship) to end the year at No. 1 in the world. The Australian Open also was McIlroy's third consecutive finish of sixth or better.
McIlroy remained sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking with the victory.
By PGATOUR.COM Staff
Rory McIlroy wasn't the only celebrity on his flight to Australia for this week's Emirates Australian Open. Will Ferrell was sitting across from McIlroy, heading Down Under for the premiere of "Anchorman 2." The chance meeting resulted in McIlroy being invited to the film's premiere.
"It was very funny. Obviously, I think everyone loved the first 'Anchorman,' and the second was just as good," McIlroy said. "It was great to be a part of it last night and be invited and see it for the first time. The flight over, all the crew were over on the flight as well, but we were all very tired so most of us just put our heads down and got straight to sleep. It was great to meet all the crew, and obviously a big fan of Will Ferrell and Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, and a few of the other guys who are part of the cast."
McIlroy, No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is playing his first tournament in Australia since 2007. He's coming off consecutive top-10s, a T-6 at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and DP World Tour Championship-Dubai. It's the first time he's had back-to-back top-10s since the Wells Fargo Championship (T-10) and THE PLAYERS Championship (T-8) in May.
"The game is good. It feels good. The last couple tournaments have been much better. I've played well. A little disappointed with how I've finished, but ... it's good to be back in Australia," he said.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Graeme McDowell has been non-committal when it has come to which country he will represent in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil -- until now.
"I believe that me being here and representing Ireland will, you know, with the Olympic regulations, will mean that I will have to play for Ireland when it comes to the Olympics in 2016," McDowell said Wednesday from the ISPS HANDA World Cup in Australia.
Though McDowell is from Northern Ireland, he has the option to play for Great Britain or Ireland in the Olympics.
McDowell's fellow Northern Irishman, Rory McIlroy, has yet to decide which country he will play, and the subject has admittedly been a delicate one for the two.
"It is a very touchy political and religious subject, one that myself and Rory have not really enjoyed answering questions about the last few years because it is very difficult to pick a side because you are going to end up upsetting someone from either side really," McDowell said. "We grew up wanting to wear the green jacket and have the golf bag with the Ireland logo on it ... the Golf Union of Ireland looks after all the players in Ireland and I have always enjoyed being part of that. When it comes to the Olympic discussion, that raises some questions as to who we play for.
"I was always very much trying to sit the fence, again, because I really did not want to have to make that decision. So, you know, part of me feels relieved to not have to make that decision."
Even though his second-round 72 likely took him out of the tournament, former World No. 1 Rory McIlroy says his season debut was a success this week at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.
McIlroy began the third round only five shots back, but his Saturday 67 actually cost him ground. That's because the leaders, namely Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, were all threatening the course record on a great day for scoring.
"Yeah, there's no wind today, and the course was a little softer, as well, just because of the moisture in the air," McIlroy said. "So there were good scores to be had out there obviously. Shooting 67 seemed pretty average, to be honest."
Still, there are numerous bright spots. McIlroy has managed to keep the big numbers off his card -- he's yet to make a double bogey this week. The penchant for blowup holes helped derail his 2013 season. In his last TOUR start before this week (September's BMW Championship), he made four double-bogeys and a triple bogey in 72 holes.
McIlroy played three events in the FedExCup Playoffs and managed to rack up 12 double bogeys. The last tournament McIlroy's played without a double bogey? THE PLAYERS in May.
Can he go low Sunday to win for the first time since 2012?
"I'm giving myself plenty of chances for birdies still and I'm up there contending," said McIlroy. "Still a little bit of work to do on a few areas of the game, but it's definitely heading in the right direction."
By PGATOUR.COM staff
Rory McIlroy birdied holes 6-8 at Sheshan International to become the first player this week to reach 10 under and looked like he was ready to cruise to a comfortable 54-hole advantage.
Then the bogeys hit. First on No. 11. Then No. 15. Then on the par-5 18th when an aggressive second shot from a sidehill lie splashed in the water short of the green and led to a third bogey.
McIlroy finished the round at even par and in the same 7-under position in which he opened the round.
"Disappointing, frustrating," he said. "Obviously played nicely the front nine and then started to hit a lot of sloppy shots on the back. Missed the last six greens in a row. Missed seven greens on the back nine, so a bit of work needed on the range this afternoon."
While he was dropping shots on the back nine, McIlroy wasn't falling far down the leaderboard. He left the course in a second-place tie with Bubba Watson and Boo Weekley, behind only leader Dustin Johnson.
"It would have been nice to play a bit better and start tomorrow with a few more shots in hand but I guess I'm in a decent position going into the weekend, and still have a great chance at winning this tournament," McIlroy said.
A victory in this tournament would be McIlroy's first on TOUR since 2012 when he won the PGA Championship, Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship in the span of five weeks.
By PGATOUR.COM staff
Rory McIlroy is looking to quickly establish that the 2013 PGA TOUR Season is over and done with for him.
Making his 2013-14 debut, McIlroy carded a 7-under 65 to take the overnight lead at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. It's the first time McIlroy has had held an outright lead after 18 holes since the 2011 U.S. Open, which he went on to win.
"It was good, it felt good to be out there and be in control of my golf ball," McIlroy said. "It's only one round of golf, but it's definitely the way I wanted and needed to start this week."
Two off the pace were Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Jamie Donaldson while Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson and Justin Rose each opened with 68s.
Fernandez-Castano won the European Tour's BMW Masters last week.
"I played again very, very solid golf tee to green. I left myself a lot of birdie chances and minus five to start the tournament is a pretty good result considering the circumstance," he said. "It was windy out there and there's some tricky pin positions. Overall very, very happy with my performance."
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who could earn Special Temporary membership on TOUR with a top-5 finish, had two double bogeys on his card but still managed a 3-under 69 that left him in a tie for eighth with Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson and three others.