Rory McIlroy focused on Zozo Championship, not Masters

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Rory McIlroy isn’t getting ahead of himself.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about the Masters.

How could he not be thinking about the Masters? For one thing, he’s a green jacket away from completing the career Grand Slam. For another, 11 of the 16 questions he took in Wednesday’s zoom press conference ahead of the start of the Zozo Championship at Sherwood dealt with the Masters.

“You guys are going to write about Augusta because that’s what people want to hear about, right? You’re catering to what people want to read,” McIlroy said.

The world No. 5 wasn’t annoyed at all the Masters questions. He perked up when talking about trips he’s taken there with his father when the Masters wasn’t being played, especially his journeys down into the club’s famous wine cellar. He talked about little changes here and there to the course all the players see from year to year. About staying in one of the famous white cabins.

But all of his attention when he puts the peg into the ground for the first time in the first round will be on the task at hand.

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“I’m 100 percent focused this week on the Zozo Championship at Sherwood and there’s no part of my mind that will be on Augusta, Georgia, when I’m out there playing those 72 holes this week,” McIlroy said. “It’s four rounds, it’s an opportunity to win a PGA Tour event. It’s a great opportunity to try to get a win and get into contention and I think that would be a big step. I haven’t really been in contention much since coming back from the lockdown. If I could get into contention this week and have a chance to win, I think that would be great for just overall confidence in play and all that.”

McIlroy was the hottest player on the planet before the golf world shut down in March for 13 weeks due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. In 11 starts leading into the shutdown, McIlroy had two wins and eight other top-10s and was the No. 1 player in the official world rankings.

But since the PGA Tour returned in June, he has just two top-10s in 11 starts. Last week, he tied for 21st in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.

“I’ve been working quite a bit on some technical stuff in my swing the last few weeks, trying to get my right arm working a little better in the backswing, get it supporting the club a little more, keeping the club a little more out in front of me,” he said. “I made some decent progress last week apart from the last five holes on Sunday and that’s really been it.

“I’ve been tinkering or messing around with trying to get a little more speed. I used it a little bit last week and I led in driving distance and I was No. 1 in strokes gained off the tee. If anything, my iron play wasn’t that good, so just trying to tidy that up. But other aspects of my game, I thought I putted pretty well, short game was decent.”

Other than working on hitting “high bombs, as Phil (Mickelson) would say,” McIlroy said, he isn’t utilizing his practice time on honing in shots he’d like to have for the Masters. And Mickelson told McIlroy a few years back that if your short game is sharp at Augusta National, you can be more aggressive with approach shots, so McIlroy will concentrate on that leading up to the Masters.

But this week is all about the Zozo.

“I’ve always enjoyed Sherwood,” said McIlroy, who has played here since 2010, when he finished fourth in what is now known as the Hero World Challenge. “It’s a great golf course, it’s a great venue for a golf tournament. Whenever this tournament was announced that it would be coming here instead of going back to Japan, I was excited. I think a lot of the guys were looking forward to playing it.

“It’s been nice to get out on the golf course the last few days and refresh my memory a little bit of the place. It hasn’t really changed much. The greens are a little different, a little bigger, maybe a little less severe than they were in the past, but yeah, it’s great to be here. Nice that we’re able to play this week.”

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