I have nothing to prove to anyone, says Rory
Rory McIlroy might be the red-hot favourite to end his three-year Major drought at the US PGA this week but the World No.4 insists he has nothing to prove to anyone when he steps onto the first tee at Quail Hollow tomorrow.
Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia, the other members of the world's top five, have captured 10 wins, including two Major titles and three World Golf Championships, between them this year.
Ulsterman McIlroy, his season curtailed by a rib injury and hampered by his decision to change clubs and golf ball, is patiently waiting for his first tournament victory since he captured the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup nearly 11 months ago.
And while his form in this year's Majors suggests that he's almost too eager to do well and show he's golf's top dog when at the top of his game, he vehemently denied that he is at Quail Hollow this week to make any kind of statement to the golfing world.
"I definitely don't want to be in the mindset this week of wanting to make any type of statement or go out and prove myself," McIlroy said. "I'm past that point. I've proven myself enough over the last nine years of my career.
"Obviously I wouldn't have won as much as I would have liked this year, and there's been a few components to that, injury-wise, changing equipment and stuff. It has been a bit of a transitional year.
"But I feel like everything's settled and my health is pretty much where it needs to be. So no, I just want to go out there and play well this week.
"It's a golf course I've played well on before. But I'm definitely not going out there to try to prove anything to anyone. I just want to go out and play my game, and hopefully that will be good enough."
Just two and a half years ago, McIlroy went to Augusta National hoping to win the 2015 Masters and complete the career Grand Slam.
Instead, victory went to a 21-year-old Spieth, who is now just one Major away from beating McIlroy to the punch in terms of completing the career Grand Slam and matching his four Major wins.
The 28-year-old from Co Down professed his admiration for Spieth as he watched him begin his final round charge at Royal Birkdale, calling the Texan "an absolute stud".
And while he again hailed Spieth for his uncanny ability to escape disaster and turn things around again and again, citing his "resilience" as his greatest characteristic, McIlroy feels no need to step up and prove himself this week.
He's learned to accept that he is a streaky player and while that might not fit in with the narrative that he is an Alpha male type who bristles at seeing others claim the limelight, he's happy in his skin at a venue where he has won twice in emphatic fashion.
"Life isn't just like that," he said, miming an arrow-straight upward graph. "There are little hollows, and you go down, and you come back up." If Spieth's biggest asset is his resilience, McIlroy's is his self-belief.
"I've never lost faith," he said when asked his greatest strength. "I think my belief. I have always believed in my own ability from day one. And I still do."
When Spieth won The Masters in 2015, McIlroy reacted by winning the WGC-Cadillac Matchplay before going on to win at Quail Hollow for the second time, shooting a course-record-equalling 61 en route to a seven-shot win. He said back then that he wanted to make a statement to the world and prove he was the true World No.1. This time he's just hoping to let his clubs do the talking, and he doesn't just mean his wedges.
While much has been said in the build-up about his erratic wedge play, McIlroy decided after his first practice round to take out his 52-degree wedge and put in a three-iron on a 7,600-yard course that's playing longer than ever following heavy rains.
"Short irons and wedges are the big thing I have been focussing on but in saying that, the golf course is playing so long I don't think we are going to have many short irons and wedges this week," McIlroy said on his decision yesterday to go from four wedges to three.