AKRON, Ohio, July 31 (Reuters) - Dispirited and frustrated after missing the cut at the British Open 12 days ago, Rory McIlroy was in a much more upbeat mood on Wednesday as he prepared for this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Twelve months ago, the Northern Irishman played well at this event to end a poor run of form and went on to win his second major title in record-breaking style at the PGA Championship the following week.
McIlroy is aiming to replicate that turnaround on a Firestone Country Club layout he has always enjoyed playing, and believes his game is in better shape than it was this time a year ago.
“I always love coming back here,” the world number three told reporters on a wet, overcast day where he has posted top-10 finishes in his last three appearances.
”It’s a golf course I feel like I can do well on, and if something similar could happen like it did last year, get a good finish here or get into contention, obviously that would set me up for the last major of the season.
“I was sitting up here this time last year probably not feeling as if my game was in great shape, and I‘m sitting up here this year a lot more positive, so that’s a great sign.”
McIlroy arrived at Firestone last year after missing the cut at the U.S. Open and tying for 60th at the British Open in his previous two starts, but he swiftly put that behind him as he finished in a tie for fifth at the Bridgestone Invitational.
One week later, he clinched the PGA Championship by a record eight shots at Kiawah Island and went on to win twice more on the 2012 PGA Tour as he stormed to the top of the world rankings and claimed the order of merit on both sides of the Atlantic.
However, this year has been a roller-coaster ride for the 24-year-old, both on and off the course.
He has mainly struggled for form since switching his club brand at the start of the season to Nike in a lucrative deal reported to be worth as much as $250 million over 10 years, recording just four top-10s in 11 starts on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy has also been criticised for the amount of time he spends with his girlfriend, former world number one tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, with golfing great Gary Player suggesting last week he needed to find “the right wife”.
Asked to comment on what Player had said during an interview with Britain’s Talksport radio, McIlroy replied: ”I haven’t heard. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“I have the utmost respect for Gary Player. He is an incredible man. Obviously the success he’s had on the golf course, and also the way he’s lived his life and how healthy he is. He’s an inspiration for everyone.”
McIlroy readily admits the past 12 months have been “up and down” for him, with a tendency of late to become “a little bit too emotionally involved” with his game.
“I’ve let it either get me excited or get me down, where I should really just not get too high or too low about it at all,” the 24-year-old said.
After missing the cut at the British Open for the first time in his career, McIlroy spent four days in Monaco with Wozniacki before returning to Northern Ireland where he regained his love for golf while playing a few social rounds with his friends.
“I was seven under for the last seven (holes) when we played Holywood,” McIlroy smiled. “It makes you realise why you play the game. It makes you realise why you started, because you love the game of golf.” (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)