Speaking to the press ahead of this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, Rory McIlroy was typically box-office, as he covered a range of topics from Netflix’ ‘Full Swing’ series, to where his game and head are at right now, and just who is the actual best player in the world.
“Yes,” was his rather blunt single-word reply to a question asking if he felt he was the game’s top player, and being probed why, he responded “Because I do. I’m playing well. I feel like consistency-wise, I’ve been as good as I have been ever in my career.
“I said at the end of last year, I feel like as complete of a player as I ever have. If you just look at my statistical categories, there’s no real glaring weaknesses there. I’ve worked really hard on that, to try to become a more well-rounded player.
“I think the results speak for themselves, as well, over not just the past six months but really the past 18 months post-Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, I feel like I’ve been on a really good run of form since then.”
Jon Rahm’s recent streak of impressive results means that both McIlroy and he arrive in Phoenix with heavy recent resumés, the former with four wins in eight starts, McIlroy with three in eight, and neither have finished outside the top-10 during that period. But this will be the first time they’ve gone head-to-head since the DP World Tour Final back in November, where the Spaniard took the honours.
Without being asked about Rahm specifically, Rory was asked about players peaking in the 20s now – Rahm is 28 – and if McIlroy still thought his best days may be ahead.
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t think I should be up here if I thought my best days weren’t ahead of me,” was the world number one’s response.
“I can’t be sitting up here and talking to you guys and trying to win golf tournaments if I think that the glory days are gone. You have to be an eternal optimist in this game, and I 100 percent believe that I can still — I’ve won 30 whatever times around the world as a professional. There’s no reason that I can’t double that number going forward. Like I truly believe that.
“Who knows whenever you’ve peaked or not peaked. I’m guilty of looking back to 2014 and thinking about how I played then, and are there certain things from that time in my career I’d want to put into my own career at the minute, but when I look at everything and I look at the statistical categories, I said at the start of this press conference, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been as complete of a player as I am right now.
“The highs were very high back then, but I had some lows, too. But I feel like my base level now is just a little bit higher and a little more consistent.”
Always a unique event on the PGA Tour schedule, Phoenix this year has the added caveat of being the Superbowl host city, with American Football’s showpiece event due to kick-off shortly after the Phoenix Open’s expected finishing time.
“Yeah, it’s amazing,” McIlroy enthused when asked about the additional buzz around the city.
“I mean, to have two of these huge events in the same city on the same weekend, it’s going to be really interesting because I feel like Saturday here is going to be a huge day in terms of the numbers and everything, and it’ll be interesting to see what Sunday is like with people obviously wanting to get to the Super Bowl. But that stadium can only hold a certain number of people, where obviously this golf course can hold a lot more than that.
“Yeah, hopefully Sunday doesn’t feel too much quieter than Saturday.”
Netflix’ fly-on-the-wall golf series is due to premier this week on the platform, and not originally slated to be a participant, early trailers left fans eagerly anticipating the release when Rory appeared towards the end of the snippet.
When asked why he’d changed his mind, McIlroy felt that it became apparent that it was something he should get involved in.
“Yeah, I sort of took the attitude of see how the first season works out, see if I like it, like the idea, feel comfortable letting cameras get into my life a little bit more. But I had a good chat with Chad in the summertime. Obviously with everything that’s going on in the world of golf, he just said having my voice in there in some way could just add a layer of context that wasn’t there already.
“I made sure that the parameters were very much like, ‘look, you can film me at — you’re not coming to my house, you’re not coming in my car, you’re not coming anywhere near my family, but you want to do some stuff with me at golf tournaments, totally fine’. They were the ground rules that were sort of set, and here we are.”
Finally, he was asked if he’d seen CBS’ on-course ‘wiring up’ of players and if he’d be open to it.
“I think they’ve been great,” he replied. “So I think Max was really insightful in Torrey Pines and Keith Mitchell last week at Pebble. I thought they were very good. It’s very unobtrusive; you just put an AirPod in your ear and just have a chat with the guys in the studio.
“It would take a little bit of convincing for me, but I’d certainly be open to it. But given the last couple of weeks and how well I think it’s been received, I’d certainly be open to it.”