Sunday 21 January 2018

Rory McIlroy hoping conservative strategy pays off at Sawgrass

Rory McIlroy chips a shot to the green on the first hole during a practice round for The Players Championship
Rory McIlroy chips a shot to the green on the first hole during a practice round for The Players Championship

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy hopes a more conservative approach will continue to translate into improved results in the Players Championship, one of the few big tournaments he has yet to win.

McIlroy missed the cut on his first three appearances at Sawgrass and failed to break par in any of his six rounds, but carded an opening 66 in 2013 and went on to finish eighth.

Closing rounds of 69 and 66 saw the world number one improve to sixth place behind Ryder Cup team-mate Martin Kaymer 12 months ago and McIlroy comes into the event on the back of victory in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play in San Francisco on Sunday.

"I didn't get off to the best of starts in my career here at the Players," McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference. "But I feel like each and every year I come here I learn to play the golf course a little bit better.

"I've adopted more of a sort of conservative strategy over the last couple of years and it's really paid off. I had to battle to make the cut last year, but once I was in there I had a good weekend and finished the tournament off well.

"I heard something that says this course sort of tests everyone and favours no one. It doesn't really suit any style of game, but everyone feels like it's a challenge here.

"If your game's off just a little bit in any department, it really magnifies that during this week. You don't have to hit it long off the tee, but you have to be really precise.

"It's always hard for me when I can't get driver in my hand because I feel like when I get driver in my hand I can give myself an advantage over the rest of the field. It's just about being very patient and approaching it a different way, winning a different way. I feel that would make me a more complete player."

McIlroy had to win seven matches to lift his second World Golf Championship title last week, restarting his quarter-final with Paul Casey at 6:45am on Sunday and following that with wins over Jim Furyk in the semi-final and Gary Woodland in the final.

However, the 26-year-old said he felt "pretty fresh" after two days at home and was delighted to get another trophy under his belt.

"Whether it was a stroke-play event or match play, it's always just nice to be given the trophy at the end of the week," added McIlroy, who will play alongside world number two and Masters champion Jordan Spieth in the first two rounds.

"I felt I hadn't played my best golf since sort of February, since coming over here and playing at the start of my PGA Tour season. I felt like I really hadn't got into contention to win and that's something I wanted to do.

"It was nice that the first week out again I am able to do that. I want to continue to do that."

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