Accenture Match Play interview: Rory McIlroy

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February 19, 2013

MORE INTERIVEWS: Accenture Match Play transcripts archive

LAURA HILL:  It's my pleasure to welcome Rory McIlroy to the interview room to the Accenture Match Play Championship seeded No.1, obviously No.1 in the world.  Maybe just talk about your expectations coming into this week and kicking off your PGA TOUR season schedule here at the Accenture.

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I'm excited.  I'm excited to be back in the U.S., and I haven't played any competitive golf here since the TOUR Championship, I think.  So it's good to be back, and the Match Play is always a fun event.
When I was packing my bags the other night, and I'm thinking, how many shirts did I bring, how many pairs of pants and everything.  Yeah, it's one of those weeks where you just got to try and get through every round, and you face different opposition every day.  You're just trying to beat the person that's put in front of you.  But yeah, looking forward to it.  I love the golf course here.  It's a great course for match play.  You can be really aggressive and make a lot of birdies.

Q.  The clubs the last four weeks, how has it been with them?  Have you made great strides with them and do you feel totally settled with them now?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I mean, after Abu Dhabi I took a little bit of time off.  It was nice, went up to French Alps for a little bit with Caroline, hung out in Monaco for a little bit and then got to Florida.
Yeah, I'm actually much happier with how I'm swinging the club, rather than ‑‑ the clubs were performing fine in Abu Dhabi, it was just the fact that I wasn't swinging at my best.  But I did a lot of good work with Michael over the past sort of ten days, and I feel like I've turned a corner with my swing.  I've got it back on track, and that's ultimately what's going to help me play better.

Q.  Two questions:  I think you've played two competitive rounds in the last three months.  Are you at all concerned about how much you're playing going into the Masters, and would you make any changes to the schedule?

RORY McILROY:  No, not at all.  I always try to get the Masters as my sixth tournament of the year.  And I'm going to be playing five up until that point, the Masters is the sixth, so it's not any different.  I think playing five tournaments is good, and it's a good measuring stick to where my game is at.  I'll know much more after Doral in three weeks' time after getting on this little three‑week run.  I'm excited to get back.  It's been really nice to have this break.  I feel like I needed it, and really excited to be back out on TOUR and trying to play some good golf.

Q.  Can you give us your best Shane Lowry story?

RORY McILROY:  I don't know.  I mean, I think the one that‑‑ we played foursomes together for Ireland.  We were part of the same Irish amateur team for a few years.  One thing that I remember is him winning the Irish Open at Baltray in 2009.  It was unbelievable, like amateur comes in virtually unheard of and plays great in the conditions, and the celebration at the end when he beat Robert Rock in the playoff was pretty special.
You know, it's going to be‑‑ we've been talking about it a bit.  I was talking to him a little bit about it last week.  Yeah, it'll be good.  It'll be a lot of fun.  It's good to‑‑ if we'd have thought a few years ago playing in the European team championships at Western Gailes that we'd be playing in the first round of the Match Play here in a few years' time.  It's pretty cool to think where we've come from.

Q.  Did you pour any champagne down his throat at Baltray when he won?  Were you there?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I was, getting absolutely soaked, as well.  The weather was dreadful.

Q.  Have you ever taken this much time off coming into a big tournament like this?  What's your normal lead‑in time?

RORY McILROY:  I mean, I took three weeks off before the Masters last year, which I thought was a decent idea to get ready.  And I played okay the first two days, but didn't play so well at the weekend.  I don't feel like I'm a guy that needs to play his way into form.  I think I just practice and if I feel like I'm confident on the range and hitting it well and playing well in practice rounds, then that'll translate into shooting good scores on the course.

Q.  Nick Faldo said that it may take time for the feel of the new equipment, specifically the ball, the driver and the putter.  I just want to know your thoughts on that and how that transition is going for you.

RORY McILROY:  I mean, I don't‑‑ Nick Faldo doesn't know how I feel over the golf shot and I don't know how he felt.  But my guess is he was a little more analytically minded than I am.  I try and keep things as simple as possible.  If I see the ball going in the direction that I want in the flight that I want, then I'm happy.  It feels good, and hopefully I can show that to everyone this week.

Q.  Have you made any tweaks to the clubs that you used in Abu Dhabi?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I've put another putter in the bag and I've‑‑ it's basically the same driver, but the shaft isn't tipped quite as much, so I'm just getting a little bit more spin on it, which is keeping it in the air, and that's it.  It's a little bit heavier, a little bit of a heavier head, added six grams to the head of it and actually changed the shaft, as well.  That seems to have worked out pretty well.

Q.  I wanted to ask you about the 6 Bags Project.  How did it come about for you to pick the Tucson Boys & Girls Club of Southern Arizona?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, the 6 Bags Project is the first real project that my foundation has started with, and I think it's just a really cool concept.  We were throwing a few ideas around and someone said, well, we've got the bag for you, why don't we try and do something for a local charity every week that you're playing?  And I said, that's a really good idea.
The Boys & Girls Clubs all over America do great work for kids, and it's great to be able to support them this week here.

Q.  How about the bag being auctioned off?  What does it mean to be able to give back like that?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I think the better I play, the more I'll probably get for the bag, so it's a bit of an incentive, as well.  (Laughter.)  Yeah, I mean, it's great, and it's great to be able to raise awareness but also raise money for these great causes.

Q.  Can you explain the difference between achieving a personal goal as a golfer versus like the feeling you get when working with children, like with UNICEF or The Boys & Girls Club?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, they're two completely different feelings.  When you achieve a goal as a golfer, when you know the hard work that you've done and you've put in and you've achieved a goal, but I don't think it compares to putting a small on a kid's face or touching their lives in a way that‑‑ by not really doing much, just by being there and talking to them and going out of your way just to say hi or whatever.  That's‑‑ I feel like it's a‑‑ I have a great responsibility to do that.  Yeah, I mean, it's great winning golf tournaments and it's great to achieve personal goals, but it's not quite like the feeling you get whenever you can touch someone's life like that.

Q.  I think this was your first American event ever a couple of years ago, and you've had some success here.  Does it feel any different than any other tournament, and also, is it interesting kind of early in the season having huge putts on the sixth or seventh hole?  Does it get the juices going?

RORY McILROY:  It does, yeah.  It is different, as you said.  You can be‑‑ I was speaking to Graeme McDowell a couple of days ago, and he was saying last year he had already had his bag packed in the locker room.  And when he was wheeling his bag out of the locker room, my golf shoes were still sitting there in front of my locker.  My golf shoes weren't even on yet to play my first round match.  You can be going home early.  It's great, it focuses you right away.  As you say, you're going to‑‑ if you need that putt to stay in the match like on the 16th green or whatever, it's basically like a putt to win a tournament.  You have to make it.  To have that feeling on the first day is nice.

Q.  Did the reaction to Abu Dhabi in terms of someone mentioned Faldo, people talking about you getting used to the new clubs and equipment?  Is that something you knew would happen?  Does that irk you?

RORY McILROY:  I knew it would happen if I didn't play well, and I probably put a little bit too much pressure on myself to play well because of that.  Yeah, I mean, Abu Dhabi was a busy week.  There was a lot going on, and I was just glad to get to the first tee on Thursday morning and play some golf.  I didn't play as well as I would have liked, but as I said, I had a nice few weeks off and I feel like I'm coming into this event prepared and ready and swinging the club well, which is nice, and I'm hitting the ball well.  Hopefully that can translate into playing some good golf and getting quite far into this week.

Q.  The projected weather this week, do you think that's going to have any effect on maybe favoring the Europeans who are more used to these conditions?  Do you think the Europeans may have a slight advantage coming into the tournament?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, maybe.  I know the weather forecast for tomorrow isn't very good, and I'm glad I'm playing in the afternoon and not the morning.  I think the guys in the morning are going to be like icicles on the way in.  Yeah, I guess it's strange weather for here in a way.  I remember it snowed a couple of years ago when Martin and Luke played.
But yeah, this golf course isn't really built for the elements in a way.  It's not like a links course where the elements are the only sort of protection for some links courses.  But maybe the Europeans are used to playing in different conditions and that might help them in some way.

Q.  How do you feel coming to Marana every year for the Accenture Match Play tournament?

RORY McILROY:  It's nice.  It's usually my first tournament back in the U.S., and it's‑‑ when you start to come back to places, you get familiar with them.  You've got your favorite restaurants and you know where to go.  It's nice to come back to somewhere that feels a little bit familiar.

Q.  Vijay's situation has cast the TOUR's program and put it into the light.  When was the last time you were tested outside of a competition, not in a tournament week?

RORY McILROY:  Never.

Q.  How confident do you feel that golf is clean?

RORY McILROY:  You know, I think golf is‑‑ it's built on integrity.  I fully believe that‑‑ obviously Vijay wasn't aware that he was taking anything wrong or he was taking anything that was banned.  I think it was an honest mistake.  Of course if you take something, you've got to be penalized in some way because you might be getting an unfair advantage against the field.  But I think golf is clean.  I don't see how any real performance enhancing drugs can actually help, because if you try‑‑ if you take steroids or you take growth hormone or anything like that in golf, okay, you're going to get strong and you're going to get big, but you might lose your feel.  If you take a beta blocker or something that's going to relax you, you're going to get too relaxed and you lose concentration.
I don't see any sort of drug out there for‑‑ that could really help a golfer across the board.  Okay, maybe some could help some certain individuals with some problems, but I think golf is clean.  I don't see anyone on TOUR that‑‑ and if someone does take something wrong, I think it's an honest mistake.

Q.  You've been No.1 for quite a while now.  How often does that come to mind through the course of your day or your week, and do you still take‑‑ do you take any confidence from it?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I guess I take‑‑ it's nice to get to that position.  I'm reminded quite a lot how far or how much I have been No.1.  And my girlfriend was No.1 for 67 weeks, so she still says I've got a long way to go.
But yeah, it's nice.  I want to stay there for as long as possible obviously, but the way to do that is not by thinking about that or concentrating on that, it's about winning golf tournaments and playing well and putting yourself in contention to win, and if you can do that most weeks, then that ranking will take care of itself.

Q.  You came to close last year and had that battle with Hunter Mahan in the championship round.  Is there anything you learned from that experience that you can take with you this week, or is last year last year and it's a completely different tournament?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I mean, I think I can draw on the confidence or the memories from last year getting to the final.  I let Hunter get a few up on me early on, and I tried to come back on the back nine.  I actually‑‑ I think I birdied five of the last seven holes that we played, and it just wasn't quite enough.
This year is this year.  And as I said at the start, you've just got to try and beat the guy who's put in front of you.  You know, I've played well on this golf course before, and hopefully I can do that again.

Q.  You mentioned you really needed your little break that you just had there.  Is that more mental than physical fatigue?  And how has all that changed since you first came here for this tournament, the attention that's on you?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, it is.  It's more mental.  It's nice to get away.  It's nice not to be under any sort of spotlight.  I guess that's what I sort of needed because if you were doing this week in, week out, it gets a little bit too much at times, for me anyway.  It's nice to sort of get away for a little bit and do my own thing and try and get away and not be in that spotlight or have the attention so much.

Q.  What are the telltale signs for you when you know that you really need a break?

RORY McILROY:  I get agitated.  I can tell I get agitated on the golf course.  I'm just not‑‑ usually if I make a mistake or whatever, it doesn't bother me.  But when it starts to bother me and when it gets to me a little bit more, I know it's probably time to get away for a little while.

Q.  I'm assuming Shane and Graeme know you probably the best out of this field.  Can you talk about the advantages that Shane may have because of his knowledge of you?

RORY McILROY:  I'm not sure.  I'm not sure, if any.  Obviously match play is completely different to stroke play, and there might be a bit of gamesmanship that goes on now and again, but I don't see any obvious things that he could exploit against me.

Q.  Do you think he cares that you're world No.1?

RORY McILROY:  Not really.  I mean, it's just a title.  I'm still the same person that played with him on the Irish boys' team and Irish amateur team.  No, I don't think so.

Q.  Could you tell us about other equipment changes you've made starting with your first set of Slazengers or whatever over the years?  Have you changed frequently your golf clubs?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, a little bit.  I mean, I guess when you're growing up and you've got to buy clubs and everything, you just sort of mix and match and whatever.  I remember the first golf club that I ever had and the first‑‑ the first two golf clubs I had, I got them free, and they're hanging up in the house.  It was a little John Letters 5‑wood, and the grip is basically the whole length of the shaft.  It's pretty funny.
But yeah, I've played with a whole lot of stuff growing up.  Yeah, so...

Q.  Do you remember the first time you got criticized either by another player or by the press and how you dealt with it?  And is that still kind of a learning experience the more attention that's on you?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I think so.  At the start I guess I paid a lot more attention to it, and now I try to not read anything or not watch anything because it can only‑‑ you don't want any negative thoughts creeping into your head.  But yeah, I mean, it's part of what we do.  We're under the spotlight, we're going to get criticized from time to time, rightfully or wrongfully so.  That's just the way it is.
But it's part of life.  I've learnt that, and I'm dealing with it, and I just go out there and play the best I can, and hopefully that's good enough.

Q.  When you first got a feeling of celebrity or attention on you say after Congressional, going home to the club, the press conference at St.George's, was that the first big jump or was it still getting more and more, the attention growing, and did you feel that?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, it's nice.  It's a good position to be in.  If the attention is growing that means you're doing the right things.  You're winning tournaments and you're putting yourself up there.  So I am definitely not complaining about the position that I'm in.
But I guess Congressional was the first big‑‑ winning your first major is obviously huge, and I guess backing it up last year with another one and playing well and getting to world No.1, it's‑‑ I guess the progression has just kept gradually going up and up, and it's been nice.  Hopefully I can keep that going.

Q.  What are examples of gamesmanship that you've seen or experienced in match play?

RORY McILROY:  I mean, just little things where a guy would give you a few putts in a row of two or three feet and then he'll make you putt one from like here, stuff like that, stuff that I've done before to try and annoy people.  But it's match play, and it's what you have to do to try and win.

Q.  You talked about giving positive thoughts and keeping the negative thoughts outside.  Concentration is the bane of most amateur golfers, I'm sure.  At what point or where does this confidence, this keeping the negative thoughts out of your head focused mostly?  Is it on the greens when you putt saying it's going in the hole, or are you saying I hope I don't miss to the left or miss to the right?  What is the positive thought at that point?

RORY McILROY:  I guess it's‑‑ yeah, it's confidence, and you believe in yourself.  You believe in your abilities that you can play a shot that you've played a million times on the range.  It's just a matter of doing it more under pressure in the heat of a tournament or whatever it is.
But yeah, I guess the‑‑ I guess it's just a gradual buildup.  If people start taking shots at you for whatever reason, it's just a gradual buildup, and you're just better off not to let it enter your head.

Q.  I think it was at St.George's where you expressed some dislike for playing in inclement weather.  Given tomorrow's forecast, I was wondering how much better have you embraced the crummy conditions now?

RORY McILROY:  I wouldn't say I embrace it, but I put up with it.  It's fine.  It's the same for everyone out there, and you're‑‑ again, if it's stroke play and tee times change and you get one side of the draw that's a little better than the other, it's different.  But when you're playing match play and you're playing against a guy who's playing in the same conditions, it doesn't make a difference.

Q.  I know there's a bit of a competition in your life.  How is your tennis game coming along?

RORY McILROY:  No good.  No good.  I actually used to play more tennis before I met her.  I'll let her stick to that side of things.

LAURA HILL:  Before you go, you did talk about the 6 Bags project.  We have some special guests who have been watching your press conference.  We're going to invite the kids up to pose for a few photos and spend some time with you.
Thank you so much, and good luck this week.

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