Rory hopes to find his rhythm at Shell
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

McIlroy looking to get his groove back in Houston

Rory McIlroy doesn’t per se mind that Tiger Woods has displaced him as the world no. 1. After all, it takes some attention away from McIlroy, who is more concerned with his swing path than his ranking.

The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland enters the Shell Houston Open this week as the world’s no. 2, trying to build from the momentum he found a few weeks ago at Doral just 14 days before the Masters kicks off.

He sent Tiger a congratulatory text on Tuesday morning. Woods’ response?

“He told me to get my finger out of my ass and win this week,” Rory recounted during his press conference at Redstone Golf Club.

Now that’s pretty funny. And some good advice.

If Rory were to carry out that feat, he would regain his no. 1 ranking in the world, which he lost this week after his 32-week reign.

Other highlights from Rory’s always-thoughtful presser:

*On adding the SHO to his schedule this year (usually this event is the week before the Masters but it switches around every four years because of the calendar dates, so the Valero Texas Open will precede Augusta): You know, the course here at Redstone is a course that I’ve always enjoyed playing.  I sort of just changed my schedule after 2010 leading up to the Masters and wanted to take, you know, a week or two off before that and obviously this year with the slight change it really works having this tournament and then the week off to prepare for Augusta, so, I thought it really fit in nicely and glad to be back.

*On the state of his game:  It feels pretty good.  The last competitive round I played was the last day at Doral and shot 65.  Felt like I saw a got of good things there.
You know, it’s been going well in practice and obviously it’s a lot different out on the course but I definitely saw some good signs at Doral and looking forward to getting back and playing this competitive course this week.

*On his equipment: Everything is good at this point.

*On Tiger’s win at Bay Hill:  I didn’t see much of it at all, to be honest, during the week, only the weather was bad, they had to play yesterday but yeah, it was great.  Spoke to him this morning, congratulated him so he looks like he’s playing really, really well and putting really, really well. He’s obviously won 3 times this year and back to the top of the world rankings and he just seems like he’s in a really good place on the course, off the course.  So, it’s good to see.

*On Tiger taking the no. 1 ranking from Rory:  I think as he said yesterday, it was a by-product of playing well and winning golf tournaments.  He’s done that more than anyone this year and, you know, if he can take care of that, then that takes care of itself. So, you know, like I said, it’s always nice to say that you’re on top of the world and top of the rankings but if you play the golf that you want to and win the tournaments that you want to, then that takes care of itself.

*On the ongoing battle the next few months between him and Tiger for world no. 1: It doesn’t really bother me.  I want to get back to getting into contention in tournaments and trying to win.  I think this is a good week to try and get into contention and be — you know, have a chance with the Masters coming up but, yeah, I mean I’m just really focused on this week in Houston and trying to play well here.

*On the tournament being a tune-up for the Masters: I definitely treat this tournament as its own entity and a tournament that’s worth winning.  Obviously I think it fits really well into the schedule.  It’s not a week before the Masters.  It works really well.  I’m focused on trying to win this week and trying to play as well as I can here.

*On whether the tournament succeeds in duplicating conditions at the Masters: I think they do.  I think they get the green speeds very similar to the length of the runoffs around the greens, the rough height, everything — I think that’s why a lot of guys come and play because of that, they try and, as you said, it’s not Augusta National but try and set it up as similarly as they can.

*On his relationship with Tiger: It sort of developed more over the last couple of years, I guess playing more together in tournaments and spending more time around each other.  But it’s been good.  I enjoy his company.  He gives me a lot of grief and I try to give him some back but it’s good.  He’s fun to be around.

*On the significance for golf that Tiger has returned to the top: It’s huge.  He’s been the man in golf for the last 15 years, I guess, and it’s great for golf to have him playing well and, you know, hopefully I can just try and keep up with him.

*On whether he expected Tiger to win Bay Hill after his performance at Doral: Yeah, I guess after the first couple of days I saw he was up there close to the lead and he was making a bit of a run on Saturday and when he was going into Sunday with the lead I thought maybe Justin looked like he was playing well, he should have a run at him.  Rickie seemed like he was playing well.  But he’s played so well at Bay Hill.  It’s the last one, it’s sort of automatic.

*On how Rory has said he’s always wanted to play Tiger in his prime: As I said at the start it seems like everything looks very solid, seems like he’s driving the ball very well.  His iron play has always been really, really good and seems like whatever tips Stricker gave him at Doral is definitely working. So, yeah, he’s playing great and any tournament I’m playing in I’ll have to play my best to sort of beat him but it’s not just about, you know, him and me, there’s 154 other guys in the field that have a chance to win.

*On whether Tiger’s game is back to the form it used to be in his prime: I think his consistency is definitely back and he’s playing well week-in, week-out.
When he was going through the first part of the swing changes with Sean, some weeks he had it, some weeks he didn’t.  It seems like most weeks he comes out, he’s hitting the ball very solidly and anyone that’s going to beat him is going to have to play very, very well.

*On the hiccups Tiger has had: We’re not machines.  We’re humans.  We go through highs and lows.  It’s just sport and that’s golf. You’re going to have patches where you play great and have patches where you struggle a little bit.  I guess you just got to take the rough and the smooth and just try and treat those, I guess treat those times, sort of play and be patient and know that you’re working on right things.

*On living in a fishbowl the past few years: I guess I have sort of got used to it over the past couple of years:  It’s okay.  You go and just try to live your life as normally as you can.

*On what aspect of Tiger’s game he’d like to emulate:  I’ve always said he’s been one of the greatest fighters on a golf course, you know, if things aren’t going his way he’ll dig in and get whatever he can out of a round.  He just sticks in there.  That’s one of his biggest things. He can repeat day-in, day-out that attitude and that, I guess single-mindedness or that drive or motivation, whatever you want to call it, I think that’s his most impressive aspect.

*On hitting balls at a public driving range near Miami, where his tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki was playing in a tournament last week: It was fine. I brought my own balls with me.  They collected them.  They give me them again the next day.  It was nice.  The turf was okay.  People left me alone.  It was fine.  It was close — it was on Key Biscayne, close to tennis.  Means I didn’t have to drive too far.  I got to know the people around the club and asked them if it was okay.  Even though it’s a public golf course, of course it’s going to be okay.  Yeah, it was totally fine and people left me alone and it was good.

I was actually hitting balls on Saturday night at (Novak) Djokovic.  Caroline was there, too.  Yeah, it was a good week, fun week.  Actually got some good practice in so it was nice.

*More on slumming it with Joe Golfer at a public range: You go and you hit balls because you want to and you love the game, and yeah.  I wanted to go and practice and that was the closest place and it’s totally fine for me that I go and practice with everyone else.  It’s no big deal.

*On his upcoming UNICEF field trip to Haiti: I get out of here on Sunday night and then I leave for Haiti early Monday morning, going to my second UNICEF field trip there. I went in June, 2011, so it’s going to be a couple years.  It will be good, great to go back, I guess, to see the improvement that have been made and the improvements that still need to be made.

And the last time I went it was a very humbling place and it was a very eye opening experience for me so it will be another experience to go back there and see what it’s like and, as I’ve always said, me in the business that it’s nice to be able to do these things and raise awareness for these causes and I feel like it’s something that has been pretty close to me since I’ve been there and I’m just excited to go back and see the improvements that have been made and I mean try and help with the improvements that still need to be made.

*On how much more confidence he is going into this week compared to the Honda:  Yeah, a lot more confident.  The things that I’m trying to work on are definitely becoming a lot more comfortable.  I’ve seen enough good signs. The weekend at Doral was great and the way I’ve been hitting the ball recently.  So, you know, I just got to keep working on it and keep working on it and — but, you know, I definitely feel like it’s going in the right direction.

*On his goals for this week: I guess getting into contention is the main goal, try to have a chance to win on Sunday so, then, you know, we’ll go from there.

(AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Brett Coomer)