Rory McIlroy: Lays Out His Plans to Win the Open Championship

Rory McIlroy had one of those Groundhog Day starts on Saturday; he bogeyed the 1st hole and got it back with a birdie on the 5th, just like he did on what used to be called Freaky Friday. Friday’s round finished in spectacular form to wipe the slate clean on that and, come to think about it, so did Saturday’s. And for McIlroy, the main driver of that was patience, something that doesn’t seem to come with him all that often one way or the other:

“I feel like today my patience was rewarded. I didn’t get off to the best of starts again, and had a few chances around the turn to maybe make birdies, and I wasn’t able to do that and then dropped a shot [on 12 to go back to even]. But then I made a big par save on 13. And then to make that birdie putt on 14 was a bonus.”

“And then obviously the finish speaks for itself. I was just sort of waiting for [16 and 18, both par 5s]. I felt like I was driving the ball well, and if I could drive it on the fairway on 16 and 18, I knew that I would have irons into the greens for my second shots. And to be able to make two threes there coming in was very important, and obviously sets me up nicely for tomorrow.”

But it wasn’t all that certain in the moment. Rickie Fowler was rising to the occasion and after McIlroy bogeyed 12 after Fowler had birdied it; they were tied. But McIlroy kept his cool, ever so much easier when you know that you’re playing well:

“Yeah, I knew that Rickie was playing well in front. I didn’t know how well. I saw on 12, I think, that he got to within one of me, and then I bogeyed the hole and then it was tied. But I never panicked. I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I knew that I had some holes coming up that I could take advantage of and make some birdies on the way in. As I said, I was just very patient today and just waited for my chance, for my time when I was able to make some shots, and I was able to convert those”

“I was conscious of it. I was conscious that Rickie was getting a little closer or Sergio or whoever it was. But it was nice to be able to come up with the goods when I needed them the last few holes, and restore those few-shot lead.”

And that’s what you’re going for when you’re under the gun, being conscious of something without it overwhelming your golf senses. Being conscious of something by examining it fully to see if it’s a factor that you can do anything about…and then just “including” it in your awareness without doing anything about it. The touchstone in golf is always to be highly focused on the targets and the shots you imagine hitting to them. Everything else is a distraction from that.

And when you are able to do that, you are filled with peacefulness. And your mind will be clear, you will be comfortable:

“Yeah, I feel very comfortable. I was in here last night talking about I’m comfortable in this position. I’m comfortable sort of leading the tournament. This is the third night in a row that I’ll sleep on the lead. So I’m comfortable.”

“It helps that I’ve been in this position before and I’ve been able to convert and I’ve been able to get the job done. Comfortable with the position that I’m in, but just really comfortable with my golf game. Comfortable with how I’m hitting it. Really comfortable on the greens. I feel like that’s been a big help this week. And I just need to go out there tomorrow and play one more solid round and hopefully that’s enough.”

And McIlroy talked specifically about how he was going to go about doing that on Sunday:

“I think whenever you have such a big lead, you really can’t think about anyone else but yourself. You have to think about how you’re going to control your emotions. How you’re going to control whatever thoughts you have, trying to stay completely in the present and focus on what you need to do.”

“And I’ll go home after this, I’m going to go to the gym. I’ll have some dinner. And the last couple of nights we’ve just watched a movie. So I’ll probably do the same thing and try and get a good night’s sleep. I’ll probably do some light workout in the morning again in the gym and get out here and be prepared to play.”

And it’s even more important when you’ve had experience with the fragility of large leads:

“I’ve won from seven back this year, so I know how leads can go very quickly. And I’m not taking anything for granted. If the guys in front of me had just finished a little better, finished the way I did, then this tournament, my lead wouldn’t have been as much as it was. It seemed like Sergio and Rickie sort of struggled down the stretch a little bit. But that could have been a completely different story. Instead of a six-shot lead it could have been a one- or two-shot lead. A lot can happen.”

“And I’ve been on the right side of it and I’ve been on the wrong side of it. And that’s why you can’t let yourself think forward. You can’t let yourself think about winning or whatever it is. You’ve just got to completely stay in the moment and stay in the present, and that’s what I’m going to try to do for all 18 holes tomorrow.”

And he talked about how measured his approach to the early holes will be. Knowing that he will intentionally be engineering a slow rollout of the best in himself helps to stay centered no matter what’s going on:

“Yeah, I won’t go into the first couple of holes thinking about what score or what I need to make on those holes, just to hit good solid golf shots. I think that’s the big thing for me.”

“From the opening tee shot, I hit a great tee shot today down the middle of the first fairway and hit a pretty crappy second shot. If you’re going to miss it anywhere, miss it right, and give yourself at least some green to work with. I think it’s more to go out and try and hit some solid shots early on. Hit the fairway, hit the green. If you make a putt, great. If not, you go to the next hole. And that’s sort of the way I’ll approach it.”

All of that being said, McIlroy is on the brink of a significant accomplishment. If he wins on Sunday, he will have won three legs of the Grand Slam by the age of 25. He began by joking about what it would mean:

“It would mean a lot of hype going into Augusta next year (laughing). It would be — not a lot of people have achieved the career Grand Slam. And if everything goes the right way tomorrow to get to that three-quarters of the way there is some achievement by the age of 25. I’d be in pretty illustrious company.”

“So not getting ahead of ourselves, here, but yeah, it would mean an awful lot. I never thought that I’d be able to be in this position. I didn’t think that I’d even have the chance at 25 to go for three legs of the Grand Slam. So I’m going to try to put all of that out of my head. It would be way too much to think about and way too much to sort of ponder. First things first. Just play a good solid round of golf tomorrow. And if that means that I’m going to Augusta next year with a bit of hype, then so be it.”

One of the ancillary but not necessary factors in being able to remain in the present is having a good pairing to play with. McIlroy sees Rickie Fowler as a big plus:

“Rickie is a good guy. He’s become a neighbor of mine. We don’t live too far away from each other in Florida. I see him around all the time. So we’ve become pretty close. And that sort of stems all the way back from the Walker Cup in ’07 from Royal County Down.”

“I think it’ll be quite a comfortable grouping for both of us tomorrow. We know each other so well. There will be chat out there and there will be — we’ll try and treat it like any other day, even though it isn’t. But Rickie is a really nice guy and I get on well with him. And it will be a good, comfortable group for both of us.”

And finally, the media reminded him of his promise to share the two words he says as part of his pre-shot routine. He affirmed that he would…as long as he wins:

“If everything goes the way I want it to, then, yes.”

Hopefully one more mystery solved.

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