Rory McIlroy will tee it up at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis buoyed with his recent form and a new attitude following his debut appearance at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The 32-year-old missed out in a seven-man play-off for bronze on Sunday at Kasumigaseki Country Club and is just one of a host of players making their way back from Tokyo to compete at TPC Southwind this week, including Gold Medal winner Xander Schauffele.
“Memphis has now become obviously a permanent stop on the schedule with it being a WGC and then turning into the first leg of the Playoffs next year and it’s great,” said McIlroy.
“This course here in Memphis, it’s a wonderful golf course. I think it always produces great winners, great champions. You have to play some really good golf here to contend and win.
“So yeah, good to be back. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks with being over in Europe and then Tokyo last week and sort of here, there and everywhere. It was nice to get a couple nights in my own bed before flying up here last night. Got to look at nine holes of the golf course this morning and do a little practice after this and go out and play tomorrow.”
McIlroy, who won this event in 2014, is hopeful his experience in Tokyo and a newfound freedom in his game will help the Northern Irishman move back into contention once again as 48 of the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings tee it up in Tennessee this week, including nine of the World’s top ten.
“Last week was certainly unexpected, I would say,” McIlroy added. “I certainly didn’t expect to feel the way I did when I was there, but it was great. It was a great experience. I had a wonderful time. I had a good chance of getting a medal there at the end and didn’t quite pan out, but it was a great week. I’m already looking forward to Paris.
“I think the Olympics was a big week for me last week because I played with more freedom there and that obviously panned out well. I played my best tournament I’ve played since the U.S. Open, which was good.
“So, I think that’s really the the focus for me over these next few weeks, is play with as much freedom as possible. That’s really it. I know if I do that, then I’ll be able to play some of my best golf or at least give myself the chance to play my best golf. More freedom, less thought, more fun, try to have a little more fun with it and then go from there.”
Schauffele clinched gold on a tense final day that saw Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini shoot a record-breaking round to take silver, while C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei earned bronze after prevailing in the seven-man play-off.
“Still really excited, just an overwhelming amount of positivity coming my way. Just obviously in a really good mood,” said Schauffele.
“I think the biggest thing for me is being able to sort of hone in and focus on the task at hand this week. What was done last week is done, and we’re going to talk about it a little bit more, I think, but besides that, I need to sort of get back on the time zone, really start to focus more, lock back in and try to play well this week.
“Fortunately I’m not coming to a new property, one that I’ve played a few times and had minimal success on, but I think I’m obviously in decent form coming overseas. Looking forward to the week.”
The 27-year-old American is the only medal winner in the field this week but is joined by McIlroy, Open Champion Collin Morikawa, Masters Tournament Champion Hideki Matsuyama and Ryder Cup teammate Paul Casey, who were all involved in the seven-man play-off for the Bronze Medal eventually won by C.T. Pan.
“Although I wasn’t able to get a medal there even through that long play-off, I’m an Olympian and that’s what happened over the past week is one of the best experiences in my life,” said Morikawa.
“Obviously winning The Open a couple weeks ago is just awesome. Life’s in a great spot right now, I’m very happy, I’m playing well. I’m having a good time and that’s the biggest thing I think for me at 24 is just to enjoy it. I said I’ve had a lot of fun, especially that summer of turning pro obviously I played really well.
“You play bad here and there, but overall it’s just about enjoying it, how do I learn, how do I get better. That for me is I want what’s more and what’s next. I want to keep winning, I want could keep putting myself in contention because it’s fun. It’s enjoyable. Those are the kind of pressure situations you want to be in.”
Also making their way from Japan are the likes of Offaly star Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Reed, Viktor Hovland, Garrick Higgo, Justin Thomas, Si Woo Kim, Abraham Ancer, Joaquinn Niemann, Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman, Carlos Ortiz, Sungjae Im and Corey Conners.
IRISH TEE TIMES (Irish time)
- Rory McIlroy – 3.59pm
- Shane Lowry – 5.05pm
- Full scoring HERE
Concurrently, Padraig Harrington will be Ireland’s sole representative in this week’s Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour. He tees off at 19.40 Irish time. Full scoring HERE