Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Rory McIlroy’s Saw it all before

Rory McIlroy

It's a measure of how far Rory McIlroy has come as a professional that he can dismiss Sawgrass as ‘just another tour event’.

The young Ulsterman — a teenager no more after this week’s birthday — makes his debut at the Players, an event widely dubbed ‘the fifth major’ today.

“"I hope to do well in it, but it still feels like a normal tour event," he said.

"It's obviously a very important occasion but it just doesn't have the same feeling as a major does."

He’s obviously much more excited about the prospect of next week’s Irish Open at Baltray than his final event in America ahead of next month’s US Open at Bethpage Black.

“I can’t wait to get back to playing on a links again and Baltray is a course I know well,” he said.

But first things first.

Sawgrass is renowned primarily because of it’s 125-yard par three 17th.

And while the nine iron flick should be as straightforward as a two-foot gimme, the fact it is into that infamous island green concentrates the mind of the world’s finest no end.

But there is much more to the course than that, notably two monster 600-yard plus par fives which should suit the lengthy, but accurate, 20-year-old down to the ground, although at only just over 7,200 yards it is not long by modern standards.

It’s an important week for defending champion Sergio Garcia as he attempts to recapture the form of last season.

And also for Tiger Woods who has grown used to answering some rather unflattering questions at press conferences of late regarding the length of his game.

“I haven’t got it back yet, and nor would I expect to,” he said this week.

“After what I went through, it takes time. Most athletes take a year to get back.”

Phil Mickelson joked that during his final round pairing with Woods at the Masters he was left waiting for the world number one to hit his shot all the time.

And if he, winner at Sawgrass two years ago, wins on Sunday with Woods no better than fourth, he’ll be the new top dog.