Rory McIlroy: “I want to win this week. I don’t need to win.”

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland signs autographs for the fans during a practice round prior to the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale on July 17, 2017 in Southport, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland signs autographs for the fans during a practice round prior to the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale on July 17, 2017 in Southport, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) /

Rory McIlroy wants to win the 2017 Open Championship and he’s made mental and equipment changes that will give him the edge over DJ and Jon Rahm.

Rory McIlroy, who’s trailing behind Spieth, Fowler, DJ, Rahm, and Rose on the even of the 2017 Open Championship first round, quoted Tom Weiskopf at his Royal Birkdale press conference:

"He said, ‘When I’m playing well, I can never imagine how I ever played so badly. And when I play badly, I can never imagine how I played so great’."

It’s Been a Stop-Start Season for McIlroy

And that’s been the state of McIlroy’s game recently with injuries, recoveries and changes of equipment. However, he believes he’s on the upswing now, getting ready to play some very good golf.

"It’s been a very stop/start year. It hasn’t been the year that I had planned, going back to January and feeling like I was in a good place in my game. Because I haven’t played that much, the only thing I can really do is take some sort of confidence from what I’m seeing in practice, and sometimes that doesn’t quite translate to what happens on the course."

He admitted that he had not gotten any momentum this year, but said he was not deterred by that.

"I’ve had little periods like this before in my career, and I’ve been able to bounce back from them. I’m just waiting for that round or that moment or that week where it sort of clicks, and I’ll be off and running."

Based on what he said, he is just now getting to the point where he has less concern about his ribs.

"I’m managing it well, and making sure that it’s warmed up before I go play. I’m definitely at a point now where I kind of feel like I can practice."

However, he intends to keep a close eye on things so that he can perform well for the rest of this season. Then he will take time off and rehab everything that is a problem.  He cited having lower back problems when he was younger, although he’s certainly not old.  He managed those. Then he had the ankle crop up and had to learn what he could do while that came back to normal.  And now, it’s the ribs.

However, the time away from the winner’s circle has made him hungry to lift trophies again.

"I want to win this week. I don’t need to win. A second Open Championship isn’t going to change my life. But I want to win. I’m still as ambitious now as I was starting off my career, if not more so now because I know what I’ve achieved, and I know what I can achieve. So, it only makes you want to do that even more."

Equipment Changes in Advance of the 2017 Open Championship

He’s gone through some equipment shuffles, most recently with putters, and he’s making some modifications to the bag for the British Open.

“I went through a few putters a couple of weeks ago, I think in Connecticut, and feel that I’ve landed on one that I like,” he explained, adding that the issue is never the putter, that 98 percent is the person holding the putter.

"I’ve put a 1-iron in the bag, which I’ll hit a lot this week. It’s 16 degrees with a graphite shaft. With calm conditions, it probably runs out to 280, 290. It’s a great club to have this week."

The reason for the 1-iron is that there are a lot of doglegs at Royal Birkdale. The doglegs mean that if McIlroy hits a driver, he will hit through the dogleg into the rough or worse.  Gorse. Bunkers. Arnold Palmer hit out of a raspberry bush when he won there in 1961.

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McIlroy explained the setup changes as a response to the unique demands of the Birkdale links:

"This is a golf course where you can’t really take it on too much. You can’t cut it across corners. You can’t take on some of the angles or bunkers that are here. This golf course dictates to you how play it."

Figuring Out the Birkdale Links

Because there are only two par fives, occurring on the back nine, it could be difficult to make many birdies early although some former champions have managed birdie runs on the front nine in the past. But McIlroy has thought through the challenge.

"You’ve got the 5th hole, which is a very gentle par-4. Apart from that, there are no obvious birdie holes. You have to play really good golf. It gives you a little bit of a chance on the way in. That 1-iron will be hit a lot. I’m trying to put myself in position off the tee. And if you’re in the fairway most of the time, you can attack some of these flags."

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Despite McIlroy’s physical issues the last few years, he still believes golf is mostly mental.

"If you believe in what you’re doing and you believe in yourself and you’re positive, you have that positivity. I think that’s half the battle, it really is."

He cited the mental strength of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and suggested that perhaps the difference between those two champions and everyone else was their mental strength.  Even they had years when they were not pleased with their games.

"Yeah, I wish I was here being the No. 1 player in the world and won a couple more majors and whatever, but I haven’t. I’m in a place where I’m trying to figure out how I get back to that position where I was this time two and a half, three years ago. But I’m working on it. I’m trying to get back there and I’m doing everything I can. And hopefully the start of that crest of a wave happens this week."

Next: Royal Birkdale's Open Champions, 1954-2008

The oddsmakers have Rory McIlroy in the position of playing catch-up ball on the eve of the 2017 Open Championship, trailing Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Justin Rose. What do you think? Does McIlroy have the advantage? Is desire going to be his secret weapon?