A subdued Rory McIlroy admitted he has been working on lowering his expectations ahead of the 105th US PGA Championship following his miserable Masters experience.
McIlroy spoke confidently of having all the ingredients to win a green jacket and complete the career grand slam ahead of the year’s first major at Augusta National, with Tiger Woods even claiming it was just a matter of time.
Yet while Woods played through the pain barrier to make a record-equalling 23rd consecutive cut before being forced to withdraw, McIlroy made an early exit without speaking to reporters following a second round of 77.
The world number three then withdrew from the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, meaning he missed his second ‘designated event’ of the year on the PGA Tour and lost 25 per cent of his Player Impact Program bonus (£2.4million).
McIlroy felt the break was necessary for his “mental and emotional wellbeing” after a taxing 12 months in which he juggled on-course competition with his role as an unofficial spokesman for the PGA Tour in its battle against LIV Golf.
And he tellingly revealed that he had allowed himself to think about becoming just the sixth player to have won all four major titles after shooting five under par on the back nine of his Wednesday practice round at Augusta.
“I was never so sure that I was going to have a great week at Augusta, never so sure,” McIlroy said. “And then that happens. And it was a great lesson. It was a great lesson for me to not put too much into feelings or vibes.”
It was a complete contrast on Tuesday at Oak Hill, where questions related to LIV Golf received short shrift but McIlroy tellingly revealed what he was working on with regards to the mental side of the game.
“Less expectations,” McIlroy said. “Just sort of trying to be in a good spot with taking what comes and not thinking about things too much, not getting ahead of myself.
“Just trying to go out there, play a good first hole of the tournament, and then once I do that, try to play a good second hole and just sort of go from there.
“Golf is golf, and it happens and you’re going to have bad days. It wasn’t really the performance of Augusta that’s hard to get over, it’s just more mental aspect and the deflation of it and sort of trying to get your mind in the right place to start going forward again, I guess.
“I think I’m close. I think I’ve made some good strides even from Quail Hollow a couple weeks ago.
“I’m seeing some better things, better start lines, certainly just some better golf shots. A little more sure of where I’m going to start the ball and sort of a more consistent shot pattern.
“But yeah, we’ll get out there and see and play. If I can execute the way that I feel like I can, then I still believe that I’m one of the best players in the world and I can produce good golf to have a chance of winning this week.”
McIlroy is a two-time US PGA champion and finished eighth in defence of his title at Oak Hill in 2013, since when he married Rochester native Erica Stoll and became a member of the golf club.
The 34-year-old is also a fan of the recent renovation of the East Course and believes discipline will be the key to success as he bids to end a major drought stretching back to the 2014 US PGA at Valhalla.
“You’ve got to keep it out of those fairway bunkers. They’re very, very penal,” McIlroy added.
“It’s a long golf course, and power and length is going to be an advantage. But I think even more of an advantage is making sure that you’re hitting into these greens from the fairways.
“It’s a combination of everything, but I think discipline is going to be a huge factor this week.”