Saturday 20 January 2018

Rory McIlroy goes back to roots in bid to slay demons

'I'm a lot more positive than I was this time here last year, so that's a great sign,' says Rory McIlroy ahead of the Bridgestone Invitational
'I'm a lot more positive than I was this time here last year, so that's a great sign,' says Rory McIlroy ahead of the Bridgestone Invitational

James Corrigan

When the question becomes too complex, it sometimes makes sense to go back to the start for the answer.

Rory McIlroy certainly believes so as he tees off today in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational with his golfing passion restored.

After pitifully missing the British Open cut at Muirfield two weeks ago, McIlroy spent four days with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Monaco and pondered whether to see sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella. Instead he flew back to Belfast and allowed the boys to sort out his mind in a good old-fashioned four-ball.

"It's something I haven't done for a long time and something I will definitely do more often," McIlroy said yesterday. "It was needed."

Well, perhaps the money he took off Ricky McCormick and Harry Diamond was not needed, but in playing the last seven holes in seven-under at the links of Clandeboye Golf Club, McIlroy did so anyway.

McCormick is the professional at McIlroy's home club, Holywood, while Diamond is an Irish amateur international. Together with Mitchell Tweedie, the lucky partner of McIlroy at Clandeboye, they formed the three amigos who were famously at his side as he thrillingly led the 2011 Masters for 54 holes.

They were inseparable that week, but alas have not been since. Expect Holywood to be seeing rather more of its superstar henceforth.

"It was nice to go out and play for the sake of playing; not because I had to," McIlroy said. "When you're young you'd do anything to get out on the course. And playing with friends you grew up with takes you back to the start and, I guess, makes you realise why you play this game – because you love it."

The experience did not come without some ribbing, however. There was some banter whether McIlroy was using his old Titleists, rather than the Nike clubs he switched to in a $200m deal in January.

But as the reunited quartet witnessed the swoosh of his woods and irons sending the ball soaring in inimitable 'Rors' style, they would have recognised that his recent struggles have been all between the ears and not the shoulders.


Of course, that much was blatantly obvious after his eight-over-par first-round 79 at Muirfield, when he informed the media he felt "brain dead".

Some experts have since blamed his on-going slump on his relationship with Wozniacki, most notably Gary Player, who last week expressed the ever-so slightly dated opinion that McIlroy should not choose a high-flyer as his life-partner, but "the right wife", such as Mrs Player, "who has only encouraged me to do well and made sacrifices".

McIlroy claimed yesterday that he had not heard those comments. But, no matter; he was not about to round on a legend.

The truth is McIlroy does not have to justify anything which makes him happy; he needs only to sort out his mental issues. McIlroy feels he has already, and that is the difference between this year and last. When he begins his first round at 1.30 (6.30 Irish time) in the company of Brandt Snedeker, McIlroy will actually be more confident than 12 months ago.

And that should be an ominous proposition for the rest, even if they do include Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and 45 of the world's other top 50 players.

"I'm a lot more positive than I was this time here last year, so that's a great sign," McIlroy said. "This is a course where I've done well and can do well again and where a similar thing may happen to last year.

"If I could get into contention, that would set me up for next week's US PGA and from there set me up for another great end to the campaign."

The McIlroy transformation of 2012 is already etched deep in golf folklore. He came to Firestone on the back of four missed cuts in seven events and finished fifth. Then he won the next week's USPGA by a record eight shots to reclaim world No 1 status. He went on to win two of his next three events to secure the US money list and won the Dubai World Championship to top the European money list.

Little wonder, therefore, that, after three missed cuts in his last five events, he has sought out his putting coach, Dave Stockton, to offer the same advice as last year.

"It's all about attitude, and the thing Dave said to me that I'm trying to do again is that I won't let outsiders know, merely by looking at me, whether I've just made a birdie or a bogey. I've become a bit too emotionally involved with my golf over the past months. I've either let it get me too excited or get me too down."

McIlroy should simply go out and play. As his pals will confirm, it is what he does best. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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