Rory McIlroy believes he’s made progress in his search for his game after a three-day reconnaissance trip to San Francisco to see next week’s US Open venue.
The world No 2 tees it up with Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell at the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis with his sights set on a confidence boosting performance ahead of his title defence at the feared Olympic Club.
“I flew to San Francisco Saturday morning,” said McIlroy, who added Memphis to his schedule just over a week ago but then missed the cut in the Memorial Tournament last weekend.
“So I went out and played a little at Olympic Saturday evening, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. So I got three good days there, three full days and flew in here last night. So it was good. It was good to play a couple of rounds there and get a feel for the golf course.
“It was a very productive weekend last weekend. I feel I did a lot of good work with my coach Michael Bannon right there in San Francisco and got to see the course next week.
“And yeah, even though it wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the weekend, I still felt I got a lot out of it.”
While Jack Nicklaus insisted in Ohio last weekend that no-one remembers who wins the event the week befor a major, McIlroy would love to make sure he doesn’t forget who won the 2012 St Jude Classic.
“Yeah, if I win in Memphis this week, I’ll definitely remember who won it last year,” he said. “There would be no better way to prepare for the US Open than by getting into contention here this week.”
The Ulsterman added Memphis to his schedule following back to back missed cuts in Sawgrass and Wentworth. And while he hadn’t planned on making it a hat-trick of failures for the first time since 2008 at Nickalus’ Muirfield Village last week, the 23-year old made sure it wasn’t a lost weekend.
Cheered by his short trip to the Olympic Club, McIlroy said: “I feel like the last few days have been great because I’ve been able to go and prepare for the US Open by going to the course for four days and I’m able to play competitive rounds here. So I think I’ve sort of killed two birds with one stone by doing that.”
Apart from the US PGA, which comes the week after the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron every year, McIlroy hasn’t played the week before a major since he missed the cut in the 2010 Shell Houston Open and the following week’s Masters.
But he could he change his strategy again and play before future majors if he gets the confidence boost he’s seeking this week.
“If this week I play well and go into the US Open feeling really good about my game and I play well there, it’s something that I might do in the future,” he conceded.
“The main thing this week is to just get some more competitive golf in because the last three tournaments I’ve played I’ve only played for two days and just haven’t really felt like I’ve gotten into the tournaments.
“So hopefully this is the week where I can turn that around, and as I said, get some momentum going into the US Open… I mean I would love to play well here and obviously try and win the tournament and that would give me a great confidence boost going into next week.
“This week wasn’t included in my schedule up until a couple weeks ago, and getting here and playing the course this morning, and seeing how excited people are just to have us here, I’m really happy to be here and happy to get another competitive tournament in before next week.
“It’ll be nice to turn around my form here this week and give myself a chance to win.”
McIlroy hasn’t played in Memphis since 2010, when he finished 29th behind winner Lee Westwood.
But he was happy to see a rain-softened course this year, it might not be the best possible preparation for a firm and fast US Open next week.
Learning to prepare for majors McIlroy’s biggest challenge now and Nicklaus believes the youngster will learn from his recent lean spell and his failure to contend at Augusta last April.
In an interview with CNN Living Golf, Nicklaus said: “My wife has always had a statement, which is: ‘There is no excuse for not being prepared.’
“I know that there were times when I wasn’t prepared and I got exactly what I deserved - nothing.”
But 18-time major winner Nicklaus is confident the youngster will come back quickly from his recent slump in form, insisting: “Rory right now is worrying how he is going to put that back together, but we all go through it.
“I had the same problems. I went from 1967 to 1970 right in the prime of my career without winning a major.
“And you know I just found that I was probably lazy, I had too much success, I hadn’t worked hard enough to prepare myself.
“I just worked myself out of it, then in 1970 I had success at the British Open and I was back again.”
McIlroy turned to Nicklaus after his Masters meltdown last year and 70 days later smashed a host of US Open scoring records as he romped to an eight-shot win.
Nicklaus said: “I said it is really important to know what happened and that you understand what happened to you and that you will try not to make the same mistakes.
“Then he went right on to win a US Open and absolutely blitz the field.
“I dropped him a note saying that you obviously learned something in Augusta, but more important did you learn something from your win?
“The two are a combination and are very important to his career. He has a great, great future in front of him.”
McIlroy knows that preparation is key and he initially surprised the Gold Bear in Ohio when he confessed that an early visit to the Olympic Club was not on his radar because of the unscheduled Memphis stopover.
On CNN’s Living Golf:
“Jack Nicklaus: Did you play the week before the [US] Open last year?
Rory McIlroy: No
Jack Nicklaus: And you going to play a week before the [US] Open this year.
Rory McIlroy: Yes
Jack Nicklaus: I’ll keep my mouth shut. You’re not going to see Olympic until you get there?
Rory McIlroy: Not until Monday
Jack Nicklaus: Ok
[Interviewer] Shane O’Donoghue: What do you make of Olympic Jack?
Jack Nicklaus: Olympic takes some knowing. I wish he was going out to practise frankly but that is his call not my call.”
Missing the cut in Ohio made up McIlroy’s mind.
“I think the reason that he won many more majors than anyone else was because he prepared more than anyone else,” McIlroy said on CNN
“When he stood on the first tee on Thursday he felt like he was better prepared than anyone else and that in itself gives you confidence.”