Rory McIlroy hits out at 'negative spin' as he bids for first Irish Open title
Rory McIlroy has not gone away, you know.
In fact, he will tell anyone who cares to listen that the critics write him off at their peril.
Yesterday at The K Club, McIlroy came as close as he dared to biting back at the doubters and the doom merchants.
When you're the world No 3, and such a high-profile figure, the language must remain within the bounds of moderation and reason.
He did, however, use the 'F' word - but it was 'F' for frustration.
McIlroy last won in November 2015 when he clinched the DP World Tour championship in Dubai to fend off Danny Willett's challenge and retain his Race to Dubai title.
Here we are in the middle of May 2016, all of six months later. No victory for McIlroy yet.
A drought. Sound the alarm. There must be something amiss. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to the man himself.
"I'm relaxed about it. It frustrates me, I guess, the negative spin that's being put on it.
"And I know expectations for myself are higher than other players, but you look at my record this year, with a third in Abu Dhabi, a fifth in Dubai, a third at Doral, fourth in the Match Play; my bad weeks are top tens, basically.
"So it frustrates me that the narrative is, 'There's something missing in Rory's game', or 'What's wrong with Rory?' where I don't feel like there's anything wrong.
"It's very close, and it's not that I'm waiting for something to happen; I might need to make something happen, but it's not as far away as I feel some people think it is.
"I feel very comfortable with where my game is at.
"I know that if I go out and play my best, or close to my best, that I'm going to have a great chance to win this week, next week, basically all season, because I'm in a really good place with where my game is," said McIlroy.
Now for the bad news. By his own admission at the Rory Foundation event at Dublin's Convention Centre on Tuesday night, McIlroy's record at the Irish Open is "pathetic".
He has played the Irish Open, now sponsored by Dubai Duty Free, nine times since 2007, and missed the cut four times, including the 2013, '14, and '15.
"My performances in this event, obviously over the past three years, but going beyond that, haven't been to what I would obviously want.
"I think my best finish in The Irish Open is a seventh at Adare Manor in 2008, my first Irish Open as a professional, and since then it really hasn't been that good, one other Top-10 at Portrush.
"I want to really change that this week with a good performance, and I feel like my game is in good enough shape to do that.
"I'm coming off a couple of decent weeks in the States where I felt like I played better than what the results suggested, so I'm looking forward to the week.
"The K Club is a golf course where I feel like I can do well. It sets up well for me," he said.
Prior to yesterday's round in the Pro-am, McIlroy last played 18 holes on The Ryder Cup Course in 2007.
He got around the back nine on Tuesday, but had no major concerns about his lack of experience on the Arnold Palmer-designed layout.
"I've played 27 holes on this golf course. I'll obviously play 18 later on in the Pro-Am, but I don't really know it that well," he said.
The K Club will forever bask in the glory of staging the 2006 Ryder Cup, and a young Rory, aged 17, was there to see Europe defeat the USA.
His journey from Belfast began early on that Sunday, getting up at 5.30am to catch a bus South from his home in Holywood.
"It was extremely wet. I remember how wet it was. I think Europe had a decent lead anyway going into that singles.
"I had been to The Ryder Cup in 2004 as part of the Junior Ryder Cup team, but in 2006 it was the first time I had experienced a European Ryder Cup, and obviously all the singsongs on the first tee and people stamping their feet. I just think it was a real jovial atmosphere, I guess.
"And then it seemed like Europe had all the momentum, and I was on 16 when Darren (Clarke) beat Zach Johnson.
"It was an emotional day. I had been to Heather's (Clarke's first wife) funeral six weeks earlier.
"So to see the remarkable turnaround obviously from that day, and seeing Darren and the boys, to what unfolded, it was absolutely incredible.
"To just be a part of that, and be there, it was a very memorable day obviously," said McIlroy.
His amateur days are fond memories now, but the European No 1 had a word of advice for the GUI amateurs in the field, Jack Hume, John-Ross Galbraith, and the Irish Amateur Open champion, Colm Campbell Junior.
"I don't think the Irish amateurs should feel so much pressure this week.
"Obviously you want to play well, and Jack is confident he can go out and play well this week. I'm sure he can do," he said.
"I was lucky enough to play in a lot of European Tour events as an amateur and I felt like those were so important for me in my progress because once I did turn pro, it wasn't alien to me.
"I knew what to expect because I played in so many pro events. It's a great learning experience."
Dubai Duty Free Irish Open
Live, Sky Sports 4, 12.30pm
AT&T Byron Nelson
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