Rory McIlroy recalls the days when golf was a joy to play

 

Well, at least he can't miss the cut this week. Rory McIlroy sets out at Firestone to rekindle the spirit of 2012, when he finished fifth at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational en route one week later to his second major title.

A fortnight ago he declared his game brain-dead after missing the cut at the Open Championship, a reaction that typified his overly wrought emotional state.

It is worth reminding his detractors that he played his final 10 holes at Muirfield in one under par, not enough to keep him in the tournament but sufficient to release him from the tyranny of a mind in turmoil. A field of only 72 guarantees four days' work for McIlroy, who warmed up for this event playing golf with his mates in Northern Ireland.

"It's nice to just go out and play for the sake of playing, not because you have to," he said. "It makes you realise why you play the game, why you started – because you love the game. When you were younger you would do anything you could to get out on the golf course. It's great to just play with friends you have grown up with."

Before that he enjoyed four days in Monaco with his beloved Caroline Wozniacki, precious time away from the noise generated by the post-Nike nosedive. He was oblivious, therefore, to the vacuous advice from Gary Player, who suggested McIlroy might do worse than to get a wife and stick with her.

"I don't know what he said. This is the first time I've heard it. I don't really know. All I know is I've got a lot of respect for the man, and he's someone that I definitely look up to."

That is better than the counsel deserved. Of more value, perhaps, is the contribution of the putting coach Dave Stockton, who reminded McIlroy of the perils of wearing his heart on his sleeve.

"I've always said it's easier to smile when you are making birdies," said McIlroy, "but the thing he said last year that I am trying to do again is that if someone is watching you from the outside, don't let them know whether you have made a birdie or a bogey.

"I've become a little too emotionally involved with my golf over the past few months and let it either get me excited or down, where I should not get too high or too low."

McIlroy is paired today with Brandt Snedeker, whose victory in Canada last week was a resurrection of sorts and therefore an example of what might be after a season of persistent struggles following injury.

Snedeker once remarked that McIlroy had more talent in his little finger than he had in his whole being. That was obviously overstating the case, but the sentiment was pointing in the right direction.

In other blue-chip pairings, the US Open champion Justin Rose goes out with the Open champion Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood is alongside Webb Simpson and Luke Donald with Keegan Bradley, the defending champion.

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