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December 4 2013

9:34 PM

Rory's win beacon of things to come?

King/Getty Images
McIlroy is looking for his second win in as many weeks at this week's event at Sherwood Country Club.

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."

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