Rory McIlroy has been battling a war on two fronts throughout the past year. Taking on the leadership role among PGA Tour players amid the rise of competitor LIV Golf, the 34-year-old hit a wall following what was his most disappointing Masters to date. Refreshed, rejuvenated and revitalized after a brief hiatus from the spotlight that included skipping his second designated event, McIlroy now sets his sights and attention primarily on the 2023 PGA Championship.
McIlroy was short and to the point in front of media Tuesday at Oak Hill Country Club. No longer open to questions regarding the state of the game, LIV Golf's presence or any extracurriculars, the typically chatty McIlroy was nowhere to be seen or heard.
"I don't have a crystal ball," said McIlroy when asked where he believes the professional game will be in three years time.
Followed by a "no" when urged to speculate and a "yeah" when asked if he is consciously sidestepping questions pertaining to LIV Golf, this represents a stark contrast from what players, media and fans have gotten from McIlroy the last year. While his play did not appear to suffer throughout the 2022 season, especially during major championships where he cashed four top-10 finishes, it is apparent the outside stress has taken its toll on the world No. 3.
Some much-needed time away from the game was required for McIlroy, and a switch has since been flipped. After believing the 2023 Masters was going to be his best showing ever only for his stay at Augusta National to be cut short, the four-time major champion has tempered expectations ahead of the second major championship of the year.
"[I need to have] Less expectations," said McIlroy of what he is working on mentally. "Just sort of trying to sort of be in a good spot with taking what comes and not thinking about things too much, not getting ahead of myself. Just trying to go out there, play a good first hole of the tournament, and then once I do that, try to play a good second hole and just sort of go from there."
At this point in his career, McIlroy has tried everything in terms of major championship preparation — playing the week before, taking time off and every cadence in between. Despite this, and despite his consistent presence atop the golf world the last decade, McIlroy is now nine years removed since his last major triumph at Valhalla.
Projected to win upwards of 20 major championships by Jack Nicklaus, McIlroy has since remained on four. He's pulled himself up from his bootstraps countless times before and played himself into contention, yet major championship trophy No. 5 has yet to emerge.
"Golf is golf, and it happens and you're going to have bad days," said McIlroy. "I don't feel like the -- it wasn't really the performance of Augusta that's hard to get over, it's just more the -- it's the mental aspect and the deflation of it and sort of trying to get your mind in the right place to start going forward again."
He'll begin the march towards his fifth once again this week — as he has the past nine years — in Rochester, New York, a place his wife, Erica, calls home and a place McIlroy calls "relaxed."