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Going Places: McIlroy on Tiger, life on Tour and career goals

Rory McIlroy
Robert Beck/SI
GLOBETROTTER: My life has been hectic, but I can't imagine what it's like to be in Tiger's shoes.

This essay was one of six written by high-profile golfers for a special PGA Tour Confidential issue of SI GOLF+. Other essays by Harrison Frazar, Mark Calcavecchia, Yani Tseng, Justin Hicks and Peter Uihlein will be available later this week on Golf.com.

I wasn't playing against Tiger Woods when he had that aura. I was watching on TV! I remember getting nervous when I first met him. I was 15. There was a presence about him. There still is to some extent, but when you're on the golf course you simply block it out. But Tiger is not playing as well as he was even a couple of years ago, never mind going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was at his best. I'm not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did. He never seemed like he would make a mistake.

It's not that he's playing badly. He's simply playing badly by Tiger's standards. He's playing like an ordinary golfer. People expect more of him because of what he has achieved. As much as I would love to have the success that Tiger has had on the golf course, I wouldn't want to live his life. He has made the same mistakes as any footballer, or NBA or NFL player. Tiger is obviously different from the rest of us because he is a bit of a rock star. But he can't really take his kids to the cinema. It's a tough life because of what he has done and what he represents, being the first African-American golfer to break down the barriers.

If I earn the No. 1 ranking, it would be important to remember where I am from and to stay loyal to my roots in Belfast. I can still go to the pub to watch Manchester United on TV with my mates. But it has got a little harder lately—Belfast is such a small city. It does feel a little like I have won the lottery, but I have a great lifestyle in Northern Ireland. And it's one I never want to lose. I am determined to hang on to my ordinary roots. That's why I love Twitter. It's great for professional athletes because it makes us more normal to people who don't know us. The other day I tweeted to ask whether I should have Chinese food or a pizza for dinner. Just normal everyday stuff. I think people appreciate that.

Trying to play both the European and PGA tours turned out to be too much for me last season. I was burned out. Cutting six or seven events off my schedule this year is going to be fantastic. I want to put all my efforts into Europe. There's no animosity toward the PGA Tour. I love playing in the U.S. When Westy [Lee Westwood] and I didn't take up our membership with the PGA Tour and decided to skip the Players Championship, the headlines read: europeans snub pga tour. But we're not snubbing anyone. We're simply working out what's best for our lives and our schedules. My record at TPC Sawgrass isn't great anyway, and I don't really like the course. People might see that as an excuse to get out of it, but I will play there again sometime. I never played the Players Championship when it was a couple of weeks before the Masters, but it had more pull at that time. It's now stuck in the middle of the season and doesn't quite have the same appeal. If I go to the Players, I would be competing in five out of six weeks. That would not be the best preparation for the U.S. Open.

There is always going to be an us-versus-them rivalry between Europe and the U.S. because of the Ryder Cup. It's only natural. Especially with how well Europeans have performed over the past several years. Rivalries are healthy for the game. But I think the PGA and European tours should get their heads together, and I'm sure they will.

Where is my game at the moment? I feel I'm at the stage where I can contend in and win the big tournaments. I'm ranked in the top 10 in the world, but it's good to know that there are so many aspects of my game that I can improve on. I still think Tiger, Phil and Westy will be at the top for quite a few years, but my generation is coming up strong. Martin Kaymer is only 26, but he is already No. 1 in the world. And then there's me, Ryo Ishikawa and Rickie Fowler.

At the end of my career I want to be able to say I always gave 100 percent. I didn't do that last season. You know, like when you're teeing off on a Sunday morning and don't have a chance to win, sometimes I find it hard to get motivated. That happened at Wentworth at the BMW PGA Championship [in England in May]. I teed off at 10 o'clock on Sunday, played, got out of there, didn't really give it my all. That's something I plan to change this year.

The Masters is coming up, and I am trying to get everything to peak at Augusta. I'm working on my short game and my draw. My schedule and preparation are geared toward the four majors now. I had that great win in the States in 2010 at Quail Hollow and a couple of top threes in the majors [British Open and PGA]. I'll be working harder than ever this year trying to be more patient and not be so aggressive—to know when to fire at pins and when to go for the middle of the green. I'm an instinctive player, but I need to think a bit more. There's a fine line between playing fast and rushing. That held me back last year. I make as many birdies as anyone. I simply make a few too many bogeys.

Winning majors and getting to No. 1—those are my goals. I think I'm capable of achieving both. I just have to keep working hard. The majors define your career. Even though I've only won twice as a pro, I believe I have the game to win majors. Seeing Martin [Kaymer], Graeme [McDowell] and Louis [Oosthuizen] win last year has made me realize it's attainable. If they can do it, so can I.

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