By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Just under a fortnight ago, Rory McIlroy was using words like "brain dead" and "unconscious" to describe his mental state after he shot 79 in the first round of The Open Championship.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman went on to miss the cut at Muirfield, a strident and strategic links where the mental focus he lacked was as important as being fundamentally sound. McIlroy returns to competition this week at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in a much better frame of mind, though.
"That's why I was obviously a little bit despondent after those two days," McIlroy said. "But it's something you just leave in the past. It's not something you dwell on at all. I've left it behind, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year.
"I've got a lot of great events coming up and events that I did well at last year. So hopefully those positive memories can see me through and I can start to play the golf that I know that I can."
A year ago, McIlroy caught fire with a fifth-place finish at Firestone Country Club. He went on to win the PGA Championship at Kiawah the following week, as well as two events during the FedExCup Playoffs. He'd like nothing better than to turn the 2013 season around similarly.
"I was sitting up here this time last year probably not feeling as if my game was in great shape, and I'm sitting up here this year a lot more positive," McIlroy said. "So that's a great sign.
"It's a great golf course. It's a golf course I feel like I can do well on, and ... if something similar could happen like it did last year, get a good finish here or get into contention, obviously that would set me up for the last major of the season and going on from there, set me up for the great end of the year."
McIlroy went back to basics, of sorts, to recapture that positive outlook. After spending four days in Monaco, he went home to Northern Ireland, worked with his coach Michael Bannon and played golf with some of his friends. In fact, he shot 7 under on his last seven holes at Holywood.
"It's nice to go out and play for the sake of playing, not playing because you have to or play because whatever," McIlroy said. "Just go out and play and enjoy and play some courses that I played growing up.
"It makes you realize why you play the game. It makes you realize why you started, because you love the game. And when you were younger, you'd sort of do anything you could to sort of get out on the golf course."
McIlroy had done some similar soul-searching before last year's Bridgstone Invitational. He and Bannon and short-game wizard Dave Stockton came to the conclusion that he was too focused on mechanics and technique. He needed to just go out and play the game -- and enjoy what he was doing in the process.
He'd do well to heed those words again this week.
"I've become a little bit too emotionally involved with my golf over the past few months, I guess," McIlroy said. "And I've let it either get me excited or get me down, where I should really just not get too high or too low about it at all."