CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s fitting that Rory McIlroy’s road to the 2012 U.S. Open begins this week with the Wells Fargo Championship. It is, after all, where the young Ulsterman formally introduced himself to the American public with his victory in 2010. (He secured his first PGA Tour win with a final round 62, a course record.)
Now, after a disappointing performance at the Masters and almost a month off, McIlroy is looking to re-create the success he found at Quail Hollow two years ago and jumpstart his campaign for a second major.
“Winning a major does change your life,” said McIlroy, who won the U.S. Open in a rout last year and also won the Honda Classic in early March. “It lifts you from being a top class player into maybe the elite in a way. Not many people can call themselves major champions. I'm working hard to try and be able to call myself a multiple major champion.”
Just how hard McIlroy has been working, however, has been called into question by some. Often questioned and occasionally teased for his jet-setting with tennis pro-girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy insists that he’s simply trying to find the right balance.
“I don't want to be burned out by the time I'm 30,” he said. “For me, there's more to life than just golf. I don't know if people are surprised to hear that, but I have a lot more going on in my life than just golf.
“I know I've been criticized a little bit for not playing as much as some other guys leading into these few weeks, but I know I've got a big stretch coming up, and I want to be as fresh as possible.”
That stretch includes stops at the Players Championship next week, the BMW PGA Championship in England on May 24, the Memorial Tournament on May 31and the U.S. Open on June 14 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. But first he’ll have to tackle the competitive field here at Quail Hollow, which includes the likes of Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and, yes, Tiger Woods.
“It's always nice to come back to somewhere where you've had success,” McIlroy said. “I want to play good here and try and build up to the U.S. Open. That's the next big target for me. “
The other target in Rory’s sight? The No. 1 ranking, which McIlroy has been passing back and forth with Luke Donald, who moved into the top spot this week.
“It's so volatile because guys are playing here and playing there, and it seems like when I play, Luke doesn't play; when Luke plays, I don't play,” McIlroy said. “It would be nice to assert my authority in that No.1 position and keep it for a while.”
When pressed on whether he believed a clear No. 1 would emerge by the end of the year, McIlroy made his point known.
“I hope you’re looking at him.”