McIlroy focused at Bay Hill with Masters looming
March 18, 2015
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Rory McIlroy hits a practice shot Wednesday prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Last week Rory McIlroy spent two days playing golf at Augusta National with friends and family. He also enjoyed wine from the club’s extensive cellar and briefly shared the gym there with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton and Eli Manning early one morning.
“I got in the gym about 6 (a.m.),” McIlroy said. “Brady walked in at 6:15 and the Mannings walked in at 6:30. That was my time to leave.”
McIlroy didn’t reveal what he shot, saying only that he played well and that it wasn’t a course record.
“Hundred percent fun,” he said. “Zero percent serious.
“I had a really good time and it's nice to feel relaxed in there for a change and not feel on edge the whole time. It was a good couple of days.”
Now it’s time to get back to work for the world’s top-ranked player.
McIlroy is playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard for the first time. It will also be his final competitive start before next month’s Masters, where he will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam and win his third straight major championship.
“It's important to play well here, to get into contention and just feel what it's like, final event going into Augusta, just feeling something on the last day and the back nine in contention, having a chance to win all that stuff,” McIlroy said. “I don't think there's any better way to prepare for a tournament (than) to get into contention.”
It’s a feeling McIlory hasn’t felt since the beginning of the year when he finished second and first in his first two starts of 2015 during the European Tour’s desert swing.
Following his victory in Dubai, McIlroy took three weeks off and missed the cut at The Honda Classic. The next week at Trump National Doral, he tied for ninth but was never a threat to win the limited-field event.
Having finished first or second in eight of his last 14 worldwide starts, it's hardly time to panic. But McIlroy wasn’t pleased with how he was hitting his draw, an important shot shape at Augusta National.
Rory McIlroy news conference before Arnold Palmer
Enter McIlroy’s coach Michael Bannon, who arrived in the states on Friday. The two spent the next five days ironing out the kinks at The Bear’s Club near McIlroy’s home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and then the early part of the week at Bay Hill.
“The last five days have been really good work with him just one-on-one, no one else around,” McIlroy said. “It's been really good. So, feeling much better about my game now than I was walking off Doral 10 days ago.”
Which is a good thing for McIlroy. With the year’s first major three weeks away -- and so much uncertainty surrounding Tiger Woods -- there will be more attention than ever on the 25-year-old.
It’s something that isn't lost on McIlroy but not something he says he is distracted by.
“Every year there's always such buildup and hype towards Augusta,” McIlroy said. “I think that hasn't changed. I just think that this year at least for now I'm the buildup, the center of that hype.
“Whether Tiger decides to play or not, that could change things a little bit and I could not fly under the radar -- there would be a lot of attention on that as well. But I don't feel like it's any different. I've got a chance to go to Augusta and do something very few players in this game have done before so that adds a little bit of spice to it. I feel the extra attention but no extra pressure on this side going to Augusta this year.”
There was, however, one thing McIlroy did feel: A need to finally play in Palmer’s event, something he didn’t do for one reason or another his first seven years on TOUR. He's not the only big name in the field, either, with four of the top five in the world also playing in the final event on the Florida Swing.
“I’m very happy to have (McIlroy) here,” Palmer said. “I think it's nice that he has come on. He told me earlier (this year) that he was coming and I think he'll snap things up and make it very interesting and he'll play well, I'm sure he'll play well here.”
McIlroy was more than happy to oblige.
“It's been a long time coming,” McIlroy said. “I feel like (the course) sets up really well for me. If you're a long hitter I feel like you've got a pretty big advantage on some of the holes.
“It's Arnold's tournament so it's nice to come here and honor him and all that he's done for our game and this TOUR.”
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