Rory McIlroy wants to win more majors in 2013 but admits that simply contending in all four would be a step in the right direction as he bids to follow up on the sensational season that saw him officially announced as the PGA Tour Player of the Year yesterday.
Just the third European to win the award following Padraig Harrington in 2008 and Luke Donald last year, the 23-year old became the youngest winner since a 21-year old Tiger Woods captured the first of his 10 crowns in 1997.
“It’s an honour,” said McIlroy, who saw off opposition from Woods, Masters champion Bubba Watson, FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner in a vote by tour players while Q-School Qualifier and Mayakoba Classic winner John Huh won the Rookie of the Year gong.
“I guess it’s just a great way to end what has been a great year and my best season so far.”
McIlroy confessed that he did not feel like a contender for Player of Year after playing poorly in the first three majors of the year as well as suffering a slump in form in May and June.
But his season changed around when he finished fifth in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and took the US PGA by eight shots before winning back-to-back events during the FedEx Cup play-offs to secure the money title.
He went on to complete the money list double first achieved by Donald last year when he won last month’s DP World Tour Championship to secure the Race to Dubai crown.
“I think everyone knows that my game wasn’t where I wanted it to be through the start of the summer and leading up to the PGA,” McIlroy said in a conference call. “I didn’t want to let this opportunity pass me because it was a great opportunity to win my second major. And from that I gained a lot of confidence, knowing that I could win my second major. And I went on from there.”
Everyone is wondering what he will do for an encore having won five times worldwide and soared to world No 1 for the first time when holding off a final day charge by Woods to claim the Honda Classic In March.
“I won my first major in ‘11, I backed it up this season with another one, and I’d love to go into ‘13 with that same goal of obviously trying to win another major,” said McIlroy, who will change to Nike equipment before he reappears in Abu Dhabi in January.
“But I think really what was disappointing this year for me, if there was a disappointment, that I was only in contention once in the majors, and luckily I was able to win it.
“But next year I’d love to be in contention in all four of them and have a chance to win all - not saying I’m going to win all of them - but at least give myself a chance.”
McIlroy is already the ante-post favourite to become the first Irish winner of the Masters, where he has yet to finish better than 15th in four starts. But he’d also like to give himself chances in the US Open, The Open and the US PGA, which will be played at Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill respectively.
All three venues will be new to McIlroy, who added: “They’re going to be three new experiences for me, three new courses, and I’ve just got to try and prepare for them as best as I can.
“I know Merion is quite a short golf course by today’s standards, so I think accuracy will be a key there. Muirfield I’ve heard is probably the fairest of all the Open courses, so I’m really looking forward to that.
“And I don’t really know much about Oak Hill, so I’ve just got to, as I say, try and prepare well and try and learn the golf courses as best I can.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem paid tribute to McIlroy for his impeccable trajectory off the course: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that he has been a significant contributor to what the PGA TOUR is all about outside the ropes. He has handled himself in terrific fashion. He has been very direct with the media and entertaining to the fans inside and outside the ropes. He is at a very young age already making a very solid contribution to what is the most important asset of the PGA TOUR, and that is the image of its players.”
McIlroy’s move to Nike is also about brand building but he knows that he will go nowhere without hard work and believes he’s taken a step forward in that department this year with a little inspiration from girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the tennis player.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been dedicated to the game, and I’ve practiced hard and I’ve worked at it,” McIlroy said when asked about Graeme McDowell’s assertion that he has become more single minded and professional since he met the Danish tennis queen. “But I guess over the past 18 months, especially after winning the U.S. Open, I sort of felt like I went to the next level or the next stage of my career.
“You know, I feel like my personality away from the golf course hasn’t changed, but definitely when I get to the golf course I’m maybe a little more professional, a little more businesslike and go about my business like that. But I guess that’s just the way you have to be to be successful and to try and win as many tournaments as you can.
“You have to approach it that way, and I feel like I have probably changed my mindset a little bit over the past 12 or 18 months, and it’s definitely helped and obviously helped me to win more tournaments.”
On Wozniacki, he added: “Seeing how hard she works and how hard she practices and how dedicated she is, it definitely, I guess, flipped a switch with me that I could be a little more like that. She’s definitely been a great influence on me.”