By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rory McIlroy is still looking for that spark.
The world No. 2 thought he might have found it when he closed with a 65 at Doral and tied for eighth -- albiet a "back-door top-10," McIlroy said -- at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. But then there was that disappointing tie for 45th at the Shell Houston Open that prompted him to add the Valero Texas Open to his schedule the following week.
The decision was a good one, too. McIlroy contended all week in San Antonio, shooting 66 in the final round to finish second on the virtual eve of the Masters Tournament. "Did all that I thought I needed to do, just someone else on the day played that little bit better and beat me," McIlroy said. "So I was really happy with that."
The Masters was a good-news, bad-news kind of week, though. McIlroy was pleased overall but he took himself out of contention with a back-nine 42 on Saturday that included a triple bogey and a double bogey on the way to a 79. He was 10 shots lower on Sunday, though, and McIlroy comes to Quail Hollow with a quiet kind of confidence as he searches for his first win of the year.
"My game at The Masters was good, I just had a bad stretch of holes which put me out of the tournament," he said. "If I eliminated that, it would have been a different story. But I'm happy with where my game's at. As you say, that little bit of spark, that little bit of momentum to maybe get on a run like I got on at the end of last year would be nice, but I'm being patient with it and just waiting for the right time."
McIlroy's run started at Kiawah Island last year where he won the PGA Championship by eight strokes. Two wins in the FedExCup Playoffs followed, bringing his total for 2013 to four and turning a good season into a PGA TOUR Player of the Year campaign.
Interestingly, though, McIlroy didn't see the run coming when he got to the South Carolina low country last August.
"Of course you want to try to get in contention and try to win tournaments," McIlroy said. "But you get comfortable with your game over a period of time and it's a great feeling, and I wish I had that feeling all the time. But you're not going to play that well week in and week out, but it's I guess managing it when it doesn't quite feel as good as it was then. Making sure that your bad scores are still 70, 71, instead of 75, 76."
McIlroy's patience was rewarded, though.
He had tied for fifth at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational the previous week and continued to play well in the practice rounds at Kiawah Island. The opening round 67 on a punishing Kiawah course was proof-positive, though, and McIlroy knew how to seize the momentum when it surfaced.
Will he find it again at Quail Hollow? It wouldn't be the first time -- McIlroy picked up his first PGA TOUR victory at the Wells Fargo Championship when he closed with a 62 three years ago and then lost in a playoff in 2012.
"I'm always excited to come back here," he said. "This is a place that I really enjoy. I love the golf course. I think it's probably one of the best run tournaments of the year. They make you feel really welcome, and obviously, good memories here from my first win on the PGA TOUR. Happy to be back, excited and looking forward to getting going this week."