Wednesday 12 December 2018

McIlroy to play 'smarter' in bid for first Players title

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy believes he's learned to play with the shackles on at TPC Sawgrass and now has the maturity and discipline to win The Players.

Insisting he's over the disappointment of the Masters, he feels ready to curb his attacking instincts and rely on the quality of his ball-striking to win the game's unofficial fifth Major.

"I have learnt to love this tournament," said the world No 8, who has followed missed cuts in his first three appearances with three top 10s and a 12th place finish since 2013.

"I didn't love it the first couple of years I played it. But you start to appreciate the design of the golf course and appreciate the game-plan and the tactics you need to be successful around here.

"I didn't get that right the first few years. But now I feel like I have started to play the golf course better and play it a little smarter.

instincts "I play it against my natural instincts as a golfer which is to be aggressive and that seems to be the way forward around here.

"I have embraced that challenge in recent years - hitting to the same spot as everyone else, hitting an eight-iron to the green instead of getting a wedge in your hand.

"On most courses I don't have to do that, I can play to my strengths, but here I have to do it differently."

As for the Masters, where he was fifth behind Patrick Reed, he's adamant that he's over his final-round 74 and looking to use his appearance in the final group there as a springboard to more success this season.

"Take away what happened there and look at my results and you'd say, 'Rory is having a pretty good year,'" said McIlroy who is paired with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth in Florida. "I just have to think of it like that.

"You look back and think, 'Jeez, if I had just done this or done that', but going forward I know my game is in good enough shape to give myself a chance in all the other big tournaments coming up, not just the Majors but this week and in everything else I have to play in."

While there is much speculation over the possible presence of Tiger Woods at Ballyliffin, Des Smyth expects all the big European names to tee it up there.

"With it being a Ryder Cup year and with The Open two weeks later, I'm sure that the likes of Justin Rose and Ian Poulter will be there," said Smyth, who was confirmed yesterday as Dubai Duty Free Irish Open ambassador until 2022.

Tournament host McIlroy returns to Europe in a fortnight for the BMW PGA at Wentworth, when the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open venue is expected to be revealed.

Paul McGinley will be the 2019 host, but while he's keen to take the event to Lahinch, the European Tour is struggling to make a final decision with Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links emerging as strong alternative.

Players Championship,

Live, Sky Sports, 6.0pm

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