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For McIlroy, It Is All Mental

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters. Picture Supplied by Action Images.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA | Golf’s toughest course is still the nine inches between the ears. And sometimes when you crawl into the noggins of the game’s top players, you find that course has a lot of doglegs and forced carries.

Take Rory McIlroy. When asked at his pretournament news conference at PGA National what he remembered about winning the Honda Classic, he said: “When I won here in 2012, all the talk was (about me) trying to get to No. 1 in the world. I had a chance in the final in the Match Play the week before against Hunter (Mahan) and I didn’t.

“That week (at the Honda) I didn’t think about anything else but winning because (reaching No.1) was what I wanted to achieve. Getting to world No. 1 was a byproduct of winning the tournament. But I was so focused on (reaching No.1) that I didn’t think about anything else. Mentally, I was prepared to win and that’s what I was going to do.

“It was probably one of my better Sunday performances coming down the stretch with a few guys putting pressure on me. There are a few moments in my career that I feel like I’ll always remember. Getting to No. 1 for the first time here I’ll certainly remember.”

Perfect. This is the mark of a champion: singularly focused on a tangible, achievable goal, driven, elevating his performance and relishing in both the moment and the memory.

Now, look at what he said when asked where his mindset is now when it comes to returning to that No.1 spot.

I want to get there as soon as I can and I feel like the next few weeks, there are opportunities to gain a lot of good World Ranking points and get up there,” he said. “But you know, again, winning tournaments and playing well takes care of all that stuff. So I’ve just got to focus on that.

“I’ve got four or five more – four more golf tournaments before Augusta, I guess. So it’s a good run coming up and I want to play well, and I want to build up to this run into Augusta so I’m really confident going into sort of the meat of the season.”

Does that sound like the same guy?

But it gets better. Next he was asked why he has been a streaky putter of late.

Yeah, I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I haven’t dwelled on it that much. I’ve almost accepted the fact that I’m probably going to be a streaky putter, which is fine. It’s served me well up until this point; when I’m on, I hole putts and it’s good. And when I don’t – some weeks I struggle to hole putts – I still feel like I’ve got a good chance to win.

“But yeah, it’s always, for me, putting, it’s a bit of a journey for me trying to figure out how I’m thinking and what I’m feeling when I putt well and what I’m maybe feeling and thinking when I don’t putt so well.”

These are not the words of a guy with an edge, a guy ready to reclaim his spot atop the game and add to the list of major titles his talent demands.

“I feel like technique-wise, I’m able to start the ball on line and I feel like I can read greens pretty well so I think it’s more of a mental thing,” he said. “There are some putts I stand over that I know I’m going to hole. And there are some putts I stand over that I just feel uncomfortable and you know that you’re just not. So, I think it’s all mental for me.”

Indeed it is, young man. Indeed it is.


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