McIlroy finds old self-belief to get hot on Scott's heels
IT really didn't matter how well Rory McIlroy's been hitting his ball recently – and the Holywood native truly has been striping it over the past few weeks.
McIlroy needed to flick a switch in his head to break free from the clutches of self-doubt which ensnared him during the most frustrating season of his career.
Judging by his remarks yesterday in the wake of the seven-under-par 65 that propelled him to within two strokes of Adam Scott's 36-hole lead at the Australian Open, McIlroy once again is feeling those all-important positive vibes.
Royal Sydney Golf Club was braced for a true clash of the Titans this weekend between former world No 1 McIlroy and Australia's magnificent first ever US Masters champion Scott.
As he edged closer to completing a rare 'Aussie Triple Crown' of PGA, Masters and Open titles Down Under in the same season, Scott was "filling Greg Norman's shoes", according to fellow countryman Richard Green.
Left-hander Green (42), who leapt into third place on the leaderboard yesterday with a 66, which included a hole-in-one at six, said the Australian public has taken to Scott in a way not seen since their national icon, Norman, was in his pomp.
So the galleries will be heaving at Royal Sydney this weekend and that should further inspire McIlroy if, as his efforts and words yesterday suggested, he's ready once again to become one of the great entertainers of modern golf.
The 24-year-old has shot 65 or better on three other occasions this year, including a third-round 64 at September's Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.
In keeping with an angst-ridden summer, however, McIlroy stalled the next day with a one-over-par 72.
Yet in the wake of encouraging top-10 finishes at the HSBC Champions and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, McIlroy seems at last to have found a foothold after a season of scrabbling.
"It's funny," he said yesterday. "When you're playing well, your mindset is all about making birdies, because most of the time you're hitting fairways and hitting green, so you've got a lot of birdie chances.
"But when you're not playing your best, it seems like you are always hanging on for pars and trying to avoid making bogeys," he added. "The two mindsets are so different."
Looking back over yesterday's round, in which he made nine birdies and sank virtually ever putt he looked at, including a 30-foot monster at the sixth, McIlroy went on: "It's nice when it's like this and you feel like you can fire at pins and give yourself plenty of birdie chances.
"This game is so mental as well. To have that mindset of just wanting to get further and further under par is something that only comes with confidence and playing well for a few weeks.
"I have been playing well leading up to this and I think that's why my mindset is how it is at the minute, because I've built my confidence in the last few weeks and feel like my game is good.
"After not making the Tour Championship, it was all about building momentum for 2014 and I feel that's what I've started to do."
In fairness, McIlroy was assisted by mother nature in his efforts to get back into contention in Sydney. He went out in near perfect playing conditions yesterday morning as forecast rainstorms held off until lunchtime.
Following his stellar course-record 62 on Thursday, Scott got the worst of the weather. After a beautiful chip-and-run birdie to go two-under through three, he dropped three shots on the next two holes as a vicious squall battered the course and was relatively satisfied with the 70 which moved him to 12-under-par.