ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Rory McIlroy’s record-setting victory at the 2012 PGA Championship feels like an awful long time ago.
So much so, he decided to watch video of his victory at Kiawah Island to “lift him” and remember what it looked like to win a tournament running away.
For McIlroy, finding swing thoughts from his old self took a back seat to watching the carefree 23-year-old who set a PGA Championship record for margin of victory.
“It's body language,” McIlroy said. “It's how you carry yourself, it's all that sort of stuff, your little mannerisms. I guess it's just trying to just remember those feelings, how I felt that week and trying to carry some of that into this week. Just to get those good, positive thoughts going. There's no point in slumping your shoulders and getting down on yourself. Just try to be really resilient and carry yourself as if you were playing well.”
Since his eight-stroke victory at Kiawah, McIlroy has switched his equipment sponsor from Titelist to Nike, walked off the course after one round at the Honda Classic, bent his wedge in anger at the U.S. Open and called himself “brain-dead” en route to missing the cut at the British Open.
As McIlroy sat in the interview room of the media center Wednesday afternoon, a banner that listed every PGA Championship winner since 1958 hung behind him. McIlroy’s name was the final in the list of 55. That’s one of the few reminders that he enters this year’s final major as the defending champion.
The bounce in his step has changed to a depressed slumping of shoulders after errant shots. His scoring average has dropped from first to 33rd, his all-around ranking from second to 26th. However, McIlroy stopped short of calling 2013 a lost year.
“I've taken a few things away from this year,” McIlroy said. “I think there's been times where I've thought about my swing a little bit too much, and that's prevented me from playing the way I want to play. That's the thing, there's been times this year where I've really gotten down on myself and that's something that hasn't helped at all, and something that I'm trying to get better at.”
As his success last year showed, he still has time to turn his season around. In 2012, McIlroy had missed three cuts in the six tournaments leading up to his win at last year’s PGA Championship, including a missed cut at the U.S. Open and a 60th place finish at the British Open, and came away with a victory.
“I guess just every time you play and you don't play well, it sort of chips away at your confidence a little bit,” McIlroy said. “It's just about building that back up. But I'm sitting here as confident as I have been all year.”
McIlroy got support on Wednesday from his Ryder Cup teammate Ian Poulter, who said that reason for McIlroy’s struggles this season might have more to do with changes in his life than his golf game.
“That natural swing of his doesn't just disappear overnight and I think he's had to cope with an awful lot of things and changes that he's had in the last ten months, and it's not just equipment and it's not just media.,” Poulter said.” I think there's been a lot of off the golf course things that have happened, management, etc., etc., that have all been a factor in what's happened this year. So the second all that clears itself up and we give him a break, then you'll see Rory playing some great golf. “
After his meltdown at Muirfield last month, McIlroy mentioned that he might visit sports psychologist Bob Rotella. He said Wednesday that he didn’t see Rotella because he felt like he could figure out his troubles himself. Part of that process included watching clips of the peak of his career just one year ago.
“I love proving people wrong,” McIlroy said. “I loved sitting up here last year on the Sunday night and just being like, I proved a lot of people wrong.”
That same Sunday night that now looks so far away.