McIlroy wants to be center of attention only on the golf course

Posted: June 13, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. - Existing under a microscope can be anything but, well, conventional. Sometimes that difference can even be self-inflicted. Welcome to the world of Rory McIlroy, the former top-ranked golfer, who abruptly broke off his engagement to former No. 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki late last month, reportedly in a 3-minute phone conversation she at first thought was a joke, reportedly a day after he'd told her how much he loved her, not long after their wedding invitations were sent out.

Ouch.

The Northern Irishman then went out and shot 63 in the first round of the Memorial Tournament. Of course, he followed that up with a 78. And so it moves along.

Now he comes to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, 3 years removed from his eight-shot Open win at Congressional, trying to get his third major and first since an eight-shot PGA Championship victory at Kiawah Island in August 2012.

So how's he feeling, about anything?

"It's hard," he said. "I just want to live my life like a normal 25-year-old. You need a balance, where you're interested in other things. I've stayed off social media for the most part in the last few weeks. And I'm going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future. I'm just really enjoying my golf at the minute, and just making that the No. 1 priority.

"I don't know if I learned anything. I just went out and tried to play the 18 holes I was playing out there as best I could and that was really it. It's nice when you get on the golf course, because you've got that 5 hours of you're just with your clubs, your caddie, trying to shoot the best score possible. And that's the approach that I'm sort of adopting from now until whenever. Golf has sort of been a nice release for me the past few weeks."

And if he needs to talk to anyone, he can always call Jack Nicklaus. The fast lane has perks, too.

"I spent 2 hours with [him] in his office in Palm Beach [Fla.] and had a great sort of conversation about everything," said McIlroy, who starts out at 7:40 this morning with 2012 champion Webb Simpson and 2010 winner Graeme McDowell. "I blew him off, actually, to be honest. I was supposed to go to dinner at his house on Tuesday night, but I got in a little bit late, so decided to leave it until Wednesday morning. He's been great. Offered any sort of advice that I wanted or needed: business, golf, brand, the whole lot. To have that at my disposal has to be an advantage in some way. I get a lot from that. I mean, I don't ring him up. I ring his secretary, and say please . . .

"And he goes, 'How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?' I said, 'I wasn't meaning to, Jack.' I feel very honored that I'm able to [go to him]. He's been very generous with his time. Some of the things he said to me, I'm really thinking about going into this week. He said to me he was never afraid to change things up in the middle of a round if he felt like he wasn't swinging well. He'd make a swing change right then and there. The mental strength to be able to do that and trust what you're doing . . . Hopefully, some of those little nuggets of wisdom that he passed on to me might help this week."

Early this year, McIlroy told the BBC that he wanted to win two majors this season, to make up for winning none in 2013. That's what can happen when you decide to make an equipment change for all those Nike millions. He finished eighth at the Masters, where he was never really a factor after a second-round 77. His 15th at Memorial was the first time he's been outside the top eight since early March. And that includes a win at the European Tour's PGA Championship last month, the first time he's lifted a trophy since late 2012.

"I was building up to something like that," he said. "And it was nice to see some of the hard work that I put in pay off. There have been flashes of very good golf this year, and I know I'm capable of winning tournaments like this. I just need to put it all together. One bad stretch of holes really derailed me at the Masters. I'm just trying to keep those [bad] runs off my card. Hopefully, I can give myself another chance to win a U.S. Open.

"I think [multiple majors wins in 2014] is definitely a reasonable goal. It doesn't happen that often. But I feel like my game is in a good enough place for me to do that. I've got three majors left, and I feel like I can contend in all of them. I'm one of the favorites coming in here. There are a lot of guys playing really good golf, feeling like they have a great chance. I put myself in that category, and hopefully I live up to that and I can [be there] coming down the stretch on Sunday."

First, he has to get past Friday.

"It's, like, so strange," McIlroy said. "I think I'm first in scoring average on the PGA Tour on Day 1. And I'm like 181st on the second day. I'd rather be 70th in each. It just happened to be Fridays. I don't know if it's because I've got off to such good starts where I may be thinking too much about my score and I might be pushing myself too much to keep it going . . .

"I was down in Florida last week and the weather was good, and there was no better place to spend than out on the course and practicing and just messing around. I'm finding my love for the game again. You're always looking for ways to improve. Being able to bring that to the course and test it under major championship pressure, that's what it's all about. It's a busy time of year coming up, and I'm really looking forward to it."

Especially since he no longer has to worry about such details as which guests might be sitting where?

"I want to go out and see my friends, have some fun," McIlroy said. "It was nice to spend a bit of time at home last week, go out in the water a little bit."

Almost like any other regular bloke. Minus the seven-figure portfolio. Which means he can afford to eat any tuxedo-rental deposits.


On Twitter: @mikekerndn

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