Rory McIlroy turns attention to Miami
Wednesday 07 March 2012
With a first major in the bag and the world number one box now ticked as well, Rory McIlroy will try to show this week that golf really has entered a new era.
The 22-year-old's last tournament before his bid to exact revenge on Augusta in four weeks' time is the second of this season's world championships, the Cadillac Championship on Doral's Blue Monster course in Miami.
Barring any late withdrawals, the game's top 50 are all present, including Paul Casey after two months out nursing a dislocated shoulder suffered snowboarding and Ian Poulter a week after going down with pneumonia.
But centre stage are a curly-haired Northern Irishman for whom the sky seems the limit and a 36-year-old American on the comeback trail - Tiger Woods.
As it is for everyone else, The Masters is where Woods most wants to peak, but after the excitement of his closing 62 in last week's Honda Classic the last thing he wants is to lose momentum.
McIlroy still beat him at Palm Beach Gardens, though, and that is the way he hopes things stay.
The US Open champion could actually lose the number one spot to either Luke Donald or Lee Westwood - his playing partners in the opening two rounds - this weekend, but his confidence has never been higher.
"It's great to get to this position and obviously I'd love to stay here for as long as possible," he said.
"I just need to concentrate on playing good golf, trying to win tournaments, and if I can do that then the position I'm at in the world rankings will hopefully take care of itself.
"The way that I did it on Sunday, with Tiger making the charge, it was almost more satisfying to do it that way - knowing that I held up under pretty intense pressure when I needed to, having to just play some smart and solid golf on the way in to finish off.
"Closing out tournaments and knowing what you need to do at the right time all just comes with experience.
"I feel like I've had a lot of experiences where I could have won tournaments and I haven't, and it's taking what you need from those and trying to do something a little bit better."
Of all the experiences nothing was quite like last year's Masters, when he led by four after 54 holes and shot 80. He did not just lose, he lost by 10 and had the worst score of anybody that day.
Now McIlroy is on countdown to his return.
"Next week I have my coach Michael Bannon over from Northern Ireland. The week after that I will spend a little bit of time down in Miami," he said.
Girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, with whom he took part in a tennis exhibition against Maria Sharapova at New York's Madison Square Garden on Monday night, is playing the Sony Ericsson Open there.
"Then the week before The Masters I'll go up to Augusta for a couple of days to do what I usually do - map the course out and sort of do my own diagrams and my own drawings of the greens," he said.
"You sort of know where the pin positions are going to be for all four days, so you sort of reacquaint yourself with those, take different putts from all areas of the greens.
"After that I'll go back down to West Palm Beach and practise for a few more days, then head back up to Augusta on Monday night or Tuesday morning."
He would love it to be with a first world championship title to his name, having lost the final of the Accenture Match Play a fortnight ago.
That stopped him going to number one, but he had to wait only seven more days and the messages of congratulations have come flooding in.
Manchester United trio Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson - no prizes for guessing who McIlroy supports - were among those who made contact, but McIlroy takes such things in his stride now.
"I feel like I do thrive in the spotlight and I like the attention," he said. "I'm not saying I'm an attention-seeker, but you know you're doing something right when you're in the spotlight.
"I don't feel like I'm under any pressure to keep the number one because that's not what I play golf for - it's about winning tournaments."
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