Defending champion Rory McIlroy has no plans to change his caddie or coach and feels his best is yet to come as he seeks the “spark” missing from his game at The Players Championship.
McIlroy admitted he was somewhat dejected after a final round of 76 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday and spoke about “maybe looking to go in a different direction”.
However, that does not look set to prompt the four-time major winner into switching from caddie Harry Diamond or long-time coach Michael Bannon.
“I certainly didn’t mean like a change of personnel per se,” McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference. “I think more a change in philosophy or maybe what I’m trying to work on, maybe going in a slightly different direction.
“Swing-wise I think there’s some things that I’m working on that haven’t quite bedded in or I’m struggling to grasp what I’m trying to do, so that’s sort of what I meant, talking about going in a different direction.”
Asked if his comments on Sunday were a knee-jerk reaction to seeing another chance for a first win since November 2019 disappear, McIlroy added: “I think it was just me walking off the course not having my best day and I guess sort of venting a little bit to whoever was there at the time.
“I did feel dejected. I felt disappointed. It’s funny, I’d almost feel better if my game was worse, but it’s the inconsistency of I shot 66 on Thursday and thought, I’ve got it, I feel really good, and then I didn’t quite have it. The ups and downs are just a little too much.
“I think that’s where I’m sort of struggling to come to terms with it and sort of trying to figure out what I need to do because the good stuff is there. It always will be. I’ll always be able to figure it out and find a way.
“But it’s when it goes slightly off, how do you manage that? I feel like over the last few years I’ve been really good at when my game hasn’t been fully there, still be able to shoot 69, 70.
“I feel like the last few weeks when it hasn’t felt quite right, I’m sort of treading water and I’m just trying to shoot even par, and that was sort of what it felt like last week.”
McIlroy’s last victory came in the 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions and his most recent major title was the 2014 US PGA Championship, but the 31-year-old is adamant the best of his career is not behind him.
“I don’t think you can ever think that,” he said. “I’ve talked about this before; you have to be an eternal optimist in this game and I truly believe that my best days are ahead of me, and you have to believe that.
“There’s no point in me being out here if I didn’t think that. That’s just not part of my psyche or anyone’s psyche out here.
“I think that’s the difference between people that make it to the elite level and the people that don’t, because they don’t think that way. I certainly believe that my best days are ahead of me, and I’m working hard to make sure that they are.”
McIlroy won at Sawgrass in 2019 but remains the defending champion after last year’s edition was cancelled following the opening round due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
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“I guess it’s nice I get another bite at the cherry,” added McIlroy, who shot a first round of 72 on that occasion to trail Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama by nine shots. “Last year was obviously very surreal, difficult.
“If I felt for anyone last year because of all this, it was Hideki. That was obviously a hell of an opening round. I birdied my last three holes to shoot even par, so it could have been a lot worse as well.
“There’s been no-one else’s name added to the trophy after mine, so I guess I still am (defending champion), even though it’s a two-year thing.
“A lot has happened since. I’ll still try to rekindle those feelings and memories from two years ago, and hopefully that gives me the spark that I need to get my game in shape.”