Rory McIlroy ready to bite back at ‘young and hungry’ rivals

Rory McIlroy was “young, hungry and fearless” when he started out in the professional
ranks a decade ago. Now it’s the likes of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas fitting that description and it’s time for McIlroy to try to up his game so that he can feel confident going head-to-head with golf’s new wave of exciting youngsters when he returns to action feeling fully fit next year.

Rory McIlroy was “young, hungry and fearless” when he started out in the professional
ranks a decade ago. Now it’s the likes of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas fitting that description and it’s time for McIlroy to try to up his game so that he can feel confident going head-to-head with golf’s new wave of exciting youngsters when he returns to action feeling fully fit next year.

“The landscape of the game has changed a bit since I started to win majors [in 2011],” reflected McIlroy after bringing down the curtain on his 2017 campaign in the Dunhill Links Championship before taking a three-month break. “You’ve got young, hungry guys now that are fearless and they are playing the game how I basically came out and played a few years ago.

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“The quality of golf out there now hasn’t got any worse. It’s only got better. But I’m still confident that I have the ability to do it [win majors]. I’ve been able to win tournaments against the best players in the world and playing at their best. Right now, it’s just about trying to get myself in a position where I can do that and I feel confident that I’ll be able to do that again. I have no doubt that I can get back to that.”

McIlroy’s first appearance in 2018 is “likely” to be in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the middle of January. He’s not playing in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic the following week but his build-up to the Masters and a fourth crack at trying to complete a career Grand Slam will include a 
first appearance – most likely
with his dad, Gerry – in the AT&T Pro-Am in California in February.

The 28-year-old denied that he would need to win straight away next year to feel that what he has planned for the next months in terms of fitness testing, gym work and practising is justified.

“Not at all,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about trying to gain an advantage here or there, reassessing everything and making sure I’m sort of not leaving any stone unturned and doing everything I can to get back to [being] the best player in the world.

“I had planned on playing a heavy schedule going into Augusta this year and that didn’t pan out because I missed a few events because of injury. I plan on playing a heavy schedule going into Augusta next year, so it would be nice to get a win or two heading into Augusta and get my confidence up and feel 
like I’ve really hit the ground running.”

Having been hampered by a rib injury he picked up back in January, this was just the second winless season of McIlroy’s career. He didn’t make it to the Tour Championship in his defence of the FedEx Cup, has bowed out of the Race to Dubai where he sits seventh, and lies sixth in the world rankings. The next few weeks are geared towards him being back in the winner’s circle on a regular basis over the next decade.

“A golfer’s prime should be sort of late 20s, early 30s,” he said. “From now until 2027, I feel like it’s the prime of my career to really make the most of it and I feel like I can achieve a lot more in the game [than the past decade]. There’s a lot of goals in my head right now that I would like to achieve, even before the start of Abu Dhabi. If I can achieve all these little goals that I’ve set myself within the next three months, I’ll be fully prepared to go into next year.

“I think these three months, it’s mostly to just get over this injury but, while I’m doing that, I can maybe put some plans in place that will help me going forward. I feel like it’s really just clear road ahead.

“I feel like with what I’ve experienced and what I’ve been able to do over these past ten years and what I’ve been able to learn, I can put into the next ten and be an even better golfer.”

In a season that saw him split with his long-time caddie, JP Fitzgerald, McIlroy felt he was constantly hampered by that rib injury. It was during the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, where he’d won before in a PGA Tour event, that he felt that he wasn’t competing on a level playing field with the likes of Thomas, the winner that week, and Open champion Spieth, pictured inset.

“Not being able to work at my game the way I wanted to and then on the golf course I was hitting shots that I don’t normally hit,” said McIlroy of what had been the toughest thing for him to contend with this year. “I couldn’t really get frustrated because I just couldn’t hit the amount of golf balls I needed to to be consistent with my swing and to 
be consistent with what I was trying to do.

“Probably Quail Hollow was the [frustrating] one for me because that’s a course that I’ve been so good on before, and felt like it was a great chance to add to that major tally. I just wasn’t in complete control of my golf game.

“I said then than that could be me done for the year because I was so dejected. I felt like I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel this year. I didn’t see myself getting into contention, so it’s nice to be able to step away now and take this time. I’m going to be in the gym for the next eight weeks, getting myself ready to hit balls again and be physically right. Then I can really practise and work hard and get ready for the first few events of next year.”