McIlroy's big switch a sign of his ambition
Rory McIlroy speaks to the media before The Players

Rory McIlroy speaks to the media before The Players

Rory McIlroy's might have been given 100 million reasons to change every club in his bag just a month before the US Open but the move to TaylorMade is not expected to be as painful as his disastrous early transition to Nike in 2013.

The Holywood star was ranked No 1 in the world when he signed that initial $20m-a-year deal with Nike but his transition was not an immediate success and he ended his first year ranked sixth behind Tiger Woods before storming back to the top with two major wins in 2014.

He hasn't won a major since then but given the improvements in club technology and the initial impressions from his backroom team, this latest move promises to be far less painful for the 28-year old Co Down man as he prepares to tee it up with world No 1 Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas in The Players at Sawgrass today.

McIlroy revealed earlier this week that the primary reason for his decision to move to TaylorMade, given his struggles in the wind at Augusta National, was the low spin TP5x golf ball .

“I could barely hit an 8-iron on the 14th 140 yards, and then on 15 I was pitching it 195 yards, so I had a 55-yard discrepancy between into the wind and a downwind shot with an 8-iron,” McIlroy said of his problems in the Masters, where he was seventh. 

“That makes it hard to pull a club. It’s different for everyone, but for me I went back to the drawing board."

McIlroy admitted that he "chickened out a little bit with the ball" when he contemplated ditching the Titleist ProV1 in the off season. 

But his decision to change now is a sign that he does not want to lose more ground to world No 1 Johnson, who has gone 1st-1st-1st-2nd in his last four starts and built up a big lead at the top of the world rankings.

"I think he's got a five-point lead in the top of the world rankings at the minute, which is huge, it really is," McIlroy said at Sawgrass, where he is joined by Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. "It's a big lead, and he's played great and he deserves that lead."

Apart from the Masters, the  $10,500,000 Players is the one big title missing from his CV and having recently married, the 28-year-old heads into the meat of his 10th full season as a professional determined to achieve much more in the game.

"I still don't feel like I'm halfway there to achieving what I want to achieve," McIlroy said in the build up. "I'm 28 years old. If I can play competitively for the next 15 years, I feel like I've still got a lot left to give."

Asked if getting married would change his attitude, McIlroy added: "This game is what I've wanted to do for my whole life, so I'll always be determined, I'll always be intense and try to get the most out of my game.

"I don't think that will change just because I'm married or not. My mentality on the golf course I feel will just be the same. It might help me get over tough losses a little bit easier, I'll have to tell you when the time comes.

"But I'm in a great place in my life and I feel very settled and very lucky to be in this position, and now it's just about trying to make the most of, I guess, the fortune that I've had."

McIlroy has finished 12th, eighth, sixth and eighth in the last four years at Sawgrass, but has not played competitively since finishing in a tie for seventh in the Masters.

But Paul McGinley, who is generally on the money as a McIlroy watcher, said in his latest Sky Sports column that McIlroy may need time to adjust to his new bag set up.

Historically when McIlroy has changed equipment it has taken him time to get used to that equipment. He has a new golf ball in the bag this week, he has got irons, new wedges, a new driver, a new 3-wood and a new 5-wood.

It's a seismic change here for Rory and it may take him a few weeks to get used to how the ball flies and how it comes off the club head.

He hasn't got a lot of golf under his belt this year and has only played five tournaments, but having said that he has played well in all of them.

He is certainly fresh and certainly eager. Has he bedded in the equipment enough to hit the ground running this week? Historically the answer would be no, but you never know.

Rory is a world-class player and you never, ever discount him because he has that ability to turn up and blow everybody else away in the field if he's in the mood.

World No 3 Jason Day is attempting to become the first player to successfully defend The Players since its inception in 1974 and like McIlroy, he's determined to push on and get back to No 1.

"I could kind of just cruise it in and make a good living and enjoy having a little bit of fame and fortune that goes along with it," he said.

"But at the end of my career, I will be severely angry at myself if I did not give it 100 per cent. I think it's kind of in my blood. I was actually thinking about this the other day, what kept Tiger Woods going for over 13 straight years of being number one. What kept Greg Norman going? What kept Nick Faldo going?

"And I think part of it is because they're striving for greatness. They love the competitiveness of winning but also being the best. When I retire one day, if I can put away the clubs and know that I've given it 100 per cent I'll be happy with it, because I've done my best.

"But I just don't like playing bad golf, and sitting there thinking that I could have done more just kills me already thinking about retiring and knowing that I could have done more."

As for McDowell and Lowry, both will be hoping to kindle the sparks of good form they showed in the Wells Fargo Championship last week.

And with both showing form at TPC Sawgrass in previous years, they cannot be ruled out on a course that favours strategy and accuracy over power.

Lowry started 65-68 to lie second behind Day at halfway last year before fading to 16th after a 78 on Saturday.

As for McDowell, he had his first top 10 last year but he came closest in 2011 when he lead by one going into the final round but crashed to a 79 to finish 33rd.