Sport Golf

Sunday 21 October 2018

'I'm close' - Rory McIlroy in confident mood ahead of Honda Classic

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland smiles during the pro-am round prior to the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland smiles during the pro-am round prior to the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy believes he is close to a first win since September 2016 ahead of this week's Honda Classic, an event which has been either "feast or famine" for the four-time major winner.

McIlroy won the tournament in 2012 to become world number one for the first time, but walked off the PGA National course during the defence of his title the following year.

He initially told reporters at the 2013 event he was in "a bad place mentally" and then issued a statement citing severe toothache as the reason for withdrawing.

The 28-year-old had played his first eight holes in seven over par but later admitted that was "no excuse" for quitting as he struggled to get to grips with his new equipment following his multi-million dollar deal with Nike.

In 2014 McIlroy looked on course to make amends in style when he opened with rounds of 63 and 66, only to card a closing 74 and eventually lose out in a play-off to Russell Henley, while he missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

So far in 2018 the Northern Irishman has form figures of T3-2-MC-T20 as he builds up to the first major of the year at Augusta National in April. McIlroy needs to win the Masters to complete the career grand slam and make it a hat-trick of European wins.

"Obviously last year Sergio (Garcia) had won a tournament beforehand, Danny Willett the year before had won a tournament, but I don't think it's necessary," McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference.

"To get a win under your belt going into it does make you feel a bit better but you don't have to. I feel like that's putting yourself under an awful lot of pressure.

"I'm close. I think positive thoughts and I'm very happy with where my game's at. I feel like I'm just waiting for everything to sort of fit together. I feel like I've seen enough good things in my game over the past few weeks to know that it's not far away.

"Feast or famine - that's what my history's been here. It's a tough golf course and it magnifies if your game's off just a touch. If you miss it by tiny margins here it can punish you quite heavily. But if you're on, it gives you opportunities to score and that's what's happened."

McIlroy admitted he was happy not to be paired with Tiger Woods again after saying the circus surrounding the 14-time major winner in last week's Genesis Open left him with a headache.

Woods is playing back-to-back events on the PGA Tour for the first time since August 2015 as he continues his latest comeback from injury.

"I've started to get that feeling again of playing tournament golf, where each and every shot counts," said Woods, who missed the cut last week. "I'm looking at where I need to put the golf ball, I'm looking at (weather) forecasts... when you're at home, who cares which way the wind is blowing?

"I'm starting to get into that flow again. I've missed it and it's becoming familiar again. I'm trying to get my game solid for April (the Masters) and I've got some work to do.

"I'm so happy that I'm not in pain anymore. I'm still learning I'm stiffer than I used to be and can't create the same angles I used to do naturally. Some of the shots I like to play are not the same as they used to be - that part I have to learn. This is the new norm."

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