Rory McIlroy hopes he has banished memories of recent and more distant struggles as he bids to win The Players Championship for the second time.
McIlroy held a two-shot lead following an opening 65 in last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, but carded back-to-back rounds of 76 over the weekend and labelled the tough conditions at Bay Hill as “like crazy golf”.
The four-time major winner also struggled on his last visit to Sawgrass for the delayed defence of his 2019 Players Championship title, carding rounds of 79 and 75 to miss the cut before admitting trying to emulate Bryson DeChambeau’s big hitting had contributed to his swing problems.
“I didn’t know it was 79 last year. I tried to forget about it, but thanks for reminding me,” McIlroy joked in his pre-tournament press conference.
“I came in here last year not very confident in my golf game. I didn’t feel like I was playing well. I sort of had a two-way miss going. I’m a lot more comfortable with my game coming in this year.
“I don’t want to tempt fate, but there would have to be a drastic change in my game from now until Thursday for me to go and shoot 79 in the first round, but it is golf and you never know.”
McIlroy said on Sunday he would just need a day to get over his unhappy experience at Bay Hill and revealed he was far from alone in feeling “punch drunk” from the experience.
“There was a lot of alcoholic beverages being drunk in the locker room when I went in there on Sunday afternoon by a lot of players, so it wasn’t just me out there having a rough time,” the 32-year-old added.
“Yesterday (Monday) was just more of like an off day, a travel day. Made our way up from Orlando. Got a quick workout in here and just got organised. I didn’t touch the clubs. I just sort of left them alone for a day.
“I think sometimes those Mondays between tournaments can be important to just sort of flip the switch a little bit and recharge, and then you wake up on Tuesday morning and feel a bit better about everything and you get after it again.”
McIlroy celebrated St Patrick’s Day in style by joining Sandy Lyle as the only British winners of the so-called “fifth major” in 2019, recovering from an early double bogey in the final round and another dropped shot on the 14th to edge out former Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk by a single shot.
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Birdies on the 15th and 16th were followed by solid pars on the daunting final two holes and McIlroy felt he was almost in “complete control” of his game.
“I showed a lot of trust and commitment in myself to hit the shots I needed to hit coming down the stretch to try to win the golf tournament,” McIlroy said.
“That’s sort of what you need to do in every golf tournament, but especially around here when there’s a lot of trouble and visually it’s quite intimidating off some of these tees.
“To have full trust and commitment in what you’re doing is very important.”