Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy look forward to home game at the Honda Classic
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
The world no. 1 will tee it up in his 'hood at PGA National
Seven of the top 10 golfers in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up this week at the Honda Classic, held at PGA National — it was eight until Justin Rose withdrew on Tuesday.

But, don’t fret, we still have Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson and Sergio Garcia. How about that for a lineup? Not too shabby. This is definitely one of the deepest fields we’ll see at a regular, non-WGC, non-major PGA Tour event all season. 

Now, what did Tiger, who lives in nearby Jupiter Island, have to say ahead of this home game? Let’s check out the highlights from his pre-tourney comments…

*On the changes to the golf course: “Yeah, they’re pleasant changes.  There were some good changes made.  Overall the golf course is playing, fairways are a little bit spotty right now with all the rain we’ve had, and it’s still wet out there.  I know most of the balls I hit, the lie in the fairway had mud on them, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do tomorrow with the forecast for the rest of the week.”

*On the current state of his game: “It feels good.  I was pleasantly surprised how well I was hitting it today, and just getting a feel for the greens and how the short game is playing out of this grass versus up at Medalist.”

*On how this venue helps him get ready for the Masters: “Well, I think once we get to Florida I think we’re all thinking about our way to Augusta.  Some guys usually start at Doral, some guys start here, but once we get to Florida, now most of the guys are getting pretty serious about their prep to Augusta.  This week I think it’s  you can understand now with the field the way it is, the quality and the depth of the field has gotten so much better over the years, plus I think a lot of the guys have moved down here, as well, and they’re playing the event.”

*On the demise of the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National: “I’ve hit it a few times.  I can’t say that I haven’t hit it.  You know, it’s one of those, it’s like probably like the cypress tree out there at Pebble, kind of that iconic landmark.  I can’t say some of the guys are going to miss it, but we are going to certainly see a difference, there’s no doubt about that.”

*On his thoughts on the 17th hole at Augusta National (where the Eisenhower Tree was located): “Well, because of the two sides of the forest they planted on both sides, you don’t really see the trees on the left because Eisenhower blocks it out.  They were saplings and now they’ve grown up a little taller and now they’re above the Eisenhower tree.  Before you could only see the bottom of the them through the Eisenhower tree, but now you’re seeing them over the top, but now it’s gone so now you’ll be able to see them a little bit better.”

*On how playing close to home impacts his game: “I love it.  I love playing here.  It’s always nice to be in your own bed, in your own home.  When I lived in Orlando, I played Bay Hill and it was always to be at home.  This is my new home, and I absolutely love it down here.”

*On whether close to home gives him an advantage: “I think it’s just comfort.  As I said, I’m going home to my own remote, my own bed, and those are things that we don’t get a chance to do very often.  Most sports you spend half the year on the road and half the year at home.  Most golfers spend pretty much their entire career on the road.”

*On whether he’s making any other changes to his schedule since this event isn’t one he typical plays: “Still looking into that, yeah.  Still looking to possibly make some changes going in there.”

*On what he’s been working on in the last few weeks: “Yeah, I worked quite a bit on my short game, my putting, made sure I got that dialed in.  I felt that that was a bit off.  Coming out here, I didn’t expect the greens to be this slow.  We’ve heard rumors that they’re going to keep it pretty slow because of the wind forecast, and they have kept them slower than they normally are.  We’re going to have to make a few adjustments there.”

*On why he thinks he’s never won here: “I’ve come close.  I’ve only played it a few times.  It’s possibly just that.”

*On the discussions he had with swing coach Sean Foley out on the course today:  “We’re just working on the same things.  He’s just doing a lot of video, and he’s looking at it.  I’m not really looking at it.  I know what I need to do and the feels that are associated with certain parts of the video, and I’m just focused on that.  He focuses on a more technical level of it.”

*On how much time he’s spent with Foley since his last start at Torrey Pines: “We spent a little bit of time, not that much.  It’s more like he comes in, we come up with a game plan of what I need to work on, and then I go off and work on it.  A few days later we do the same thing, so the process is I’ve always done it in the past, and it’s worked pretty well for me that way.”

*On the difference between being 22 and 38 years old: “22 I was still making adjustments on my scheduling.  Didn’t know what to play and how much to play.  I played too much in ’97 and wore myself out, never played that much golf in my life.  Made a few adjustments in ’98, and in ’99 I think I got it right.

“Back then if I looked at it, I was still  all the golf courses were new.  I had never played them before.  Now most of the courses I’ve seen 15 times or so sometimes, and it makes a big difference.  The practice rounds and the proams, you already know that when you’re at home practicing, the sight lines.  You already know how the golf course is going to be playing.  There’s an added comfort to that.

“As you’ve seen over the course of my career, I’ve won at certain venues quite a few times because I just know it, and that’s probably the biggest difference when you’re a rookie or your first few years on TOUR, you don’t know golf courses, and you’re a little bit behind the curve on the veterans.”


McIlroy won't walk off the course this year...

McIlroy *likely* won’t walk off the course this year…

Next up, Rory McIlroy, who lives in a private home down the road from PGA National, returns to the site of last year’s debacle. As you may recall, McIlroy walked off the course after playing eight holes in the second round of the Honda Classic.

Following a first-round 70, Rory, who had teed off no. 10, was seven-over through eight holes. He dunked his second shot in the water on the par-5 18th, then proceeded to inform his fellow competitors he was done and walked straight to his car.

Several reporters followed him to the parking lot and asked for comment. Rory said, “There’s not really much I can say, guys. I’m not in a good place mentally, you know?”

He added that there was nothing wrong physically. What about his swing, mechanically?

“Yeah, I really don’t know what’s going on,” said McIlroy.

His team later issued a statement, claiming that he had a severe toothache. A few days after the incident, he spoke with SI’s Michael Bamberger.

Well, it’s now been a year and Rory, 24, survived 2013, which was filled with growing pains. He addressed last year’s incident in his pre-tourney presser on Wednesday.

Q.  12 months ago, does it feel like a long time ago given everything between then and now, and secondly, how different do you feel coming in here having played a lot more and everything else compared to last year? 

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, it feels like a long time ago, yeah, and coming in here last year, I was coming off the back of a couple of bad results in Abu Dhabi and the Match Play.  Still getting used to new equipment, high expectations, and not really  I guess not really being in control of my game.  There was a couple of things happening off the course, as well.  It just wasn’t a great time.

But obviously it’s so much different this year.  I’m much more comfortable.  I’m in a better place, and I feel like when my game is in a good place, everything else can sort of fall in line with that.  It makes me feel more comfortable about everything.

Q.  Looking back on that, how difficult of a time was that for you, because obviously it’s all about being in control of your game and your emotions and stuff like that.  And what did you learn after walking off the course and sort of subsequent thoughts that went with that?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, there was a lot of things going on at that time, as well.  Obviously my game wasn’t where I wanted it to be.  My mental state wasn’t quite where I needed it to be.  You know, there was a few things that were occupying my thoughts that probably didn’t need to be and shouldn’t have been, but it was just a very difficult time.  I’m glad that everything has sort of just been cleared up.  I’m happy with where I am now.

Yeah, I mean, it’s difficult to deal with, especially when you haven’t had to deal with it before.  But everyone deals with it in different ways.  I guess it was a little bit of a shock to the system for me, and I just needed a little bit of time to deal with a few different things.

Q.  Was it a case of one or two things you just had to say to yourself, this has to change, and how do you translate that into your game? 

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I mean, there was a lot of things I needed to change.  I needed to change a couple of things in my game, but there was a lot of things I needed to change off the course, so that was one big thing, to sort of get my head right to be able to go on the course and just think about golf.

So that’s been  I think that’s been the biggest change.  That’s been the biggest improvement I guess you could say from this time last year.  But yeah, I’ve just kept working away on my game, and as I said at the start, I found a great golf ball and a great driver combination, and that’s given me a lot of confidence to really hit better drives, and from there it makes the game so much easier.

Q.  Were you shocked by the reaction to last year? 

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I mean, it was  you should never walk off the golf course, no matter how bad things are.  But I just  it was just one of these days, I just felt like I couldn’t cope with anything more, especially not the way I was heading I was going to shoot 90.  The last thing I needed (laughing).

Q.  Is it embarrassing looking back?

RORY McILROY:  It’s not embarrassing because I think a lot of people in the same situation might have done the same thing.  But I’ve learnt from it and I’ve moved on.  Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t my finest hour, but at the end of the day, everyone makes mistakes.

Q.  When did you realize it was a mistake, when you were in the car back or when you got home or…

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I guess maybe a couple of days later, I guess it really  a missed cut wouldn’t have been that bad instead of a withdrawal.  But yeah, it wasn’t  as I said, it wasn’t the best thing to do, and it definitely won’t happen again.

Hopefully, we’ll see Rory for all four rounds at the Honda Classic this year!

Now, what else did he have to say?

*On what it’s like playing at home now that he’s a resident here: “This definitely feels like home for me.  It’s my hometown event for me.  I’ve been in the house now just over a year, and yeah, every time I come here now I feel like I’m home, which is a great feeling to have.  I felt like for the better part of a year and a half, two years, I didn’t really feel like I’ve had a home, I was just sort of like a traveling nomad, but to be able to call somewhere home is really nice, and to be able to stay at home for a week like this is even better.”

*On whether he’s physically stronger: “Yeah, I mean, I’ve been working hard in the gym, and yeah, it’s something that I’ve taken a lot more seriously over the past couple of years, and it’s something that I quite enjoy.  It’s something that I’ve really got into the habit of, and I enjoy it now.  I’ve got a gym in the house, and when I go back there this evening I’ll go in the gym, and I’ve got a great trainer in Steve McGregor, and he keeps me right, tells me what I need to do or don’t need to do.  It’s been  I sort of spent, again, about six or seven months at the start of last year without his guidance, and I brought him back on time September, October time, and that’s really borne fruit, and it’s given me some continuity on the team.  I always want to have the same people around, and not having him around was definitely a mistake I made last year, and bringing him back into the team has definitely helped give me more structure on that side of things.”

*On having better control over his driver this year: “I’ve started to drive the ball much better.  It’s a big key in my game, and it’s something that I didn’t do well enough last year.  The ball and the driver, figuring out what that combination is, definitely helped.  I put a new ball and a new driver in the bag in October, and I saw results with that straight away, and I’m swinging the club better.  I’m swinging the club much better than I have done and as good as I ever have done, and I’m very comfortable with it.

“It’s been a lot of hard work and a bit of a grind, but I’m definitely back to a place now where I feel comfortable off the tee.”

*On the growing pains he had with his equipment change last year: “I think it was inevitable.  You’re always going to have  you know, it’s different.  It’s a different ball, different driver, different  it’s always going to be  it’s going to take time to adjust, or not to adjust because you don’t really want to adjust to clubs, you want the clubs to fit you, and it’s going to take time tinkering and giving feedback and everything.  But if I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing, because I’d rather just do it, just get six months, seven months, whatever it is, and say, okay, I don’t really care about results here, I just want to make sure that this is right, and I’ve said this before, six months out of a 20, 25 year career isn’t that much.

“Yeah, there was times where it was a struggle and times where I got a little frustrated, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing.”

*On the golf course: “Yeah, first time I’ve seen the course this year.  Made a few little subtle changes out there.  They’ve taken a couple of bunkers away on 4 and on 11.  At the back of the greens they’re sort of more severe, sort of runoff areas, put an extra bunker in on 12, made a little more of a difficult tee shot.  But all in all the course is playing pretty similar to how it has done the last few years.

“It’s a little softer this year, I’ll say, than the previous couple years.  A couple of mud balls out there, and I think the forecast isn’t supposed to be too good tomorrow, so with soft conditions it might obviously turn the fairways  might get a few mud balls out there and stuff.

“For the most part the course is in good condition, greens are in good shape, and excited to get going.”

This year, Rory has his parents staying with him, along with his fiancee Caroline Wozniacki.

Rory tees off at 12:25 off the first tee on Thursday with Adam Scott and Billy Horschel. Meanwhile, Tiger starts off no. 1 at 7:35 with Zach Johnson and Keegan Bradley.

(Photo: Getty Images)