LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — When Rory McIlroy arrived at the British Open last year at Royal St. Georges in Sandwich, England, he was greeted like a conquering hero, the boy wonder from Northern Ireland who had just slayed the U.S. Open with a historic 16-under total. He was LeBron in FootJoys, the Next Tiger Woods, and he finished T25.
A year later, at Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the 2012 British Open, McIlroy is still one of the game’s top players, but after missing three cuts in 2012, including the U.S. Open, he’s just not The One anymore.
“It's been lovely just going about my business,” McIlroy said, noting the contrast between his Open reception this year and last. “It's been nice to sort of prepare and definitely not have the madness that was going on last year.”
He added that he went out for dinner in town on Sunday without creating the same public commotion that he did last year after his U.S. Open win, but McIlroy’s easy-going manner disappeared when a reporter asked him about his focus.
“You said recently that you'd taken your eye off the ball,” the reporter said. “Is your eye back on the ball now?”
“I think so, yeah,” was McIlroy’s frosty response.
“Are there any other distractions?” the reporter followed up.
“There’s never been any distractions,” McIlroy shot back.
McIlroy won the Honda Classic in early March, and during his Tuesday media conference at the British Open, he took issue with criticism of his game, calling his recent slump a “blip on the radar.”
“I got the world No. 1 after I won a major, so I don't think my game has completely went off,” McIlroy said. “Everyone has bad spells, and I had a couple of bad weeks where I didn't play so well. But it's just a little blip on the radar, and I feel like I'm swinging well again. And I feel like this will be a great week to play well.”
But while McIlroy wouldn’t apologize for his game, he did try to make amends for his controversial comments after last year’s Open at Royal St. Georges, when he said, “It’s just not my sort of golf.”
“Those comments were just pure frustration,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “Having really high expectations going into it, coming off a major win, really wanting to play well and get into contention, and not doing that. And blaming the weather, blaming the draw, blaming my luck, basically. And that was just frustration. Looking back on it a year later, I just didn't play well enough to get into contention and didn't handle the conditions as best as I could have.”
McIlroy said he played well in bad conditions at the Irish Open earlier this month, where he finished 10th. That was his last event, but he has played four practice rounds at Royal Lytham, including two last week with his friend Graeme McDowell, and he said he’s ready for anything the course or the weather can throw at him.
“I feel like I'm hitting the ball great,” McIlroy said. “I think it's the best I've swung the club all year. I've done a lot of work on that. As I said, it's keeping the ball in play, keeping it out of the bunkers and out of the rough. Not only if I can do that, but if anyone can do that in this field, they've got a great chance.”