Desire not an issue as McIlroy seeks confidence out West

Desire not an issue as McIlroy seeks confidence out West
 Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy last night dismissed Jason Day's concern that "desire" is the only thing that can stop him having a Tiger-esque career.

While Jordan Spieth struggles with his putting and Dustin Johnson battles to hold off the rampaging Spaniard Jon Rahm as world number one, Day admires McIlroy’s explosiveness and fearlessness but sees hunger as the Holywood star's biggest challenge as he enters the second half of his career. 

"The biggest thing for Rory is the desire part — how much does he really want it — because he has the tools to be Tiger-esque," the Australian (30) said last night, possibly revealing more about himself than the Irish star.

"Obviously Tiger is Tiger but to be in the same sentence as Tiger is pretty unique and special to be able to say that. 

"I think he has the ability to go out and win more majors than he has right now (four) and I am sure that's what he wants to do."

While he has millions in the bank and four majors on the sideboard at his luxurious Florida home, McIlroy was adamant on hearing about Day's well-meaning remarks that he is more hungry than ever to be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time.

But he also admitted that he felt so dejected after last year's winless and injury-hit season that he reassessed vowed to make the next decade the best of his career.

“I'm feeling a lot different in myself because I feel like it's the start of something and not the end of something," he said of his mood this week compared to how he felt before shutting down for three months after the Alfred Dunhill Links last October. 

"I was just sort of ready to call it quits for the year after the Dunhill. But with how I sort of dejected and wanting to get away from it I was then, to how rejuvenated and optimistic I am now, it feels a lot different that way."

With $36.5 million earned on the PGA Tour alone, not to mention a string of multi-million dollar contracts, McIlroy (29 in May) is not motivated by money anymore but his legacy.

"It's different," he said of life as the man who has just about everything compared to the 21-year old who missed the cut in his only Pebble Beach appearance in the 2010 US Open.

Desire is not the issue. Confidence is another thing.

"I certainly want it. There's no doubt about that," he said. "I want to be one of the best players to ever have played the game when I decide to call it a day. 

"And I know with the right dedication and working on the right things that that could be achievable for me. So, yeah, there was a little bit of, I don't want to say a refocus over the last few months, but just a recalibration of what I need to do to be at that level. 

"And, yeah, I think I have a great window of opportunity over the next 10, 12 years to play great golf and to leave my mark on the game, I guess. 

"But, yeah, there's some other great players and everyone has chances to win every week and the fields are getting so much deeper, so it's just about putting yourself in the position and the more you do that, the more comfortable you are in that scenario. 

"So, the desire's definitely there. Look, like everyone sitting up here in front of you guys that plays the PGA TOUR has a very comfortable life, so that's not an excuse in any way. 

"That's not the reason that I'm out here to play, I've got everything I need. It's just about gathering trophies and trying to be the best golfer that I can be."

His heavy early season schedule may prove to be a two-edged sword both physically and mentally.

If his body holds up as he expects it will, he will want to win or contend. If he fails to achieve both goals, it won't have helped much.

"I wanted to do it last year as well, I wanted to play a heavy schedule, but the injury didn't allow me to do that leading up to Augusta," he said. "So hopefully I can fulfil that this year and play a lot and get into contention a bunch of times and get my confidence up at the start of the year."

Paired with his father Gerry opposite four-time winner AT&T winner Phil Mickelson at Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Pebble Beach for the next three days, he is one of six Irishmen in the field.

Paul Dunne will resume his quest to qualify for the Masters via a sponsor’s exemption while PGA Tour members Seamus Power, Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell are also hungry to join him at Augusta and keen to gather those precious FedExCup points.

Encouraged by his start to the season in the Middle East, where he was tied third in Abu Dhabi and runner-up in the Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy simply wants to put himself in contention as often as possible before the Masters so he feels ready to win and complete the career Grand Slam.

Having said at the beginning of the interview that he "one excuse I won't have [at Augusta] is not being prepared and being under-golfed." But he later qualified that remark, saying he meant under-golfed in terms of contending.

“If anything, [Abu Dhabi and Dubai] were just two good confidence builders going into this part of the season and now that I’m over here in the States I’ve got six weeks out of the next seven to try and play well and give myself chances to win,” he said of the thinking behind his busiest pre-Masters schedule ever.

“And I feel like where my game's at and how I'm feeling, if I do what I know I can do, I'll have chances."

His encouraging start to the season shows he's already close to his best following his unprecedented, three-month break.

But as Paul McGinley said recently, it’s an unusually heavy schedule for a player who puts huge strain on his body.

Not only that, the 2014 Ryder Cup skipper wonders how McIlroy will handle the poa annua greens this week and again next week, when he plays the Genesis Open at the Riviera Country Club.

“There is a lot of golf to be played between now and the Masters and these two weeks will tell us how he is playing,” McGinley said.

"The first two weeks, okay he didn't win, but he chipped and putted particularly well. But the next two weeks will tell us a lot, going to poa annua greens where it is a test of nerve and guile to putt well, as well as skill."

One player who might be concerned about his putting is world number three Spieth, who is ranked 195th for strokes gained on the greens this year, admittedly after playing just ten rounds.

If he is unconcerned, he protested a little too much last night when asked what went through his head when he saw himself ranked 195th.

"What goes through my head is I still believe that most of the guys that sit on this stage right here, you ask them who do they want putting on your team in a Ryder Cup, and I believe they would say my name,” Spieth said. 

"So I have no doubt in my abilities. Just going through just a minor slump that is just setup related."

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am; Irish tee times

(MP - Monterrey Peninsula; SH - Spyglass Hill; PB - Pebble Beach)

  • Phil Mickelson / Jimmy Dunne III (3), Rory Mcllroy / Gerry McIlroy (5) - SH 1655, MP 1611, PB 1754
  • Maverick McNealy / Scott McNealy (7); Paul Dunne / David Seaton (11) - SH 1728, MP 1644, PB 1827
  • Rafael Cabrera-Bello/Dermot Desmond (11); Shane Lowry / Gerry McManus (14) - MP 1655, PB 1611, SH 1754
  • Graeme McDowell / Chris Sullivan (10); Sang-Moon Bae / Murray Demo (5) — PB 1611, SH 1750, MP 1710
  • Jonas Blixt/ Thomas Friedman (8); Padraig Harrington/Patrick Whitesell (9) - MP 1622, PB 1801, SH 1721
  • Corey Conners/Ken Petersen (7); Seamus Power/ Michael Cochrane (7) - MP 16:33 PB 1812, SH 1732