Rory McIlroy will hope to be inspired by his return to the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow this weekend, the scene of his first victory in America two years ago — achieved with a magical course record of 62 in the final round, after he had almost missed the halfway cut.
In his first start since finishing joint 40th with Tiger Woods in the Masters, McIlroy plays the opening two rounds with two other former winners at Quail Hollow, Jim Furyk and David Toms, with Woods in the group immediately ahead of them.
McIlroy also took three weeks off before the Masters, but it is all part of his long-term plan.
“I don’t want to be burned out by the time I’m 30 — I want to try and prolong my career as much as I can,” he said.
“I sometimes take a little bit too much out of myself, especially at the end of the season.
“Basically, the most important time for me in the golf season is from the start of April until the end of August. That’s when all the big tournaments are and that’s when you want to play your best golf.
“All the stuff either side of that is more preparation work and making sure that your game is getting ready and your body is physically ready.
“I know I’ve been criticised a little bit for not playing as much as some other guys leading into these few weeks, but I know I’ve got a big stretch coming up and I want to be as fresh as possible for this.
“I’m trying to find the perfect balance between golf and having a normal life and everything else.
“For me, there’s more to life than just golf. I don’t know if people are surprised to hear that, but I have a lot more going on in my life than just golf.”
Since last summer, of course, McIlroy has been dating former tennis world number one Caroline Wozniacki.
It’s been back to the practice range for Woods, who yesterday explained his poor showing in the Masters: “I was struggling with my ball-striking — it had to do with my posture. My set-up wasn’t quite right, as well as my takeaway.”
After a week off, he and coach Sean Foley got back to work and Woods reckons that, after “hundreds of reps, it’s dialled in”.
Meanwhile Lee Westwood has a new caddie in Charlotte this week — and may not have Billy Foster back until after the British Open in July. Foster injured his right knee just before a charity football match on Monday and, according to the world number three, could be out of action for more than two months.
Westwood will have American Casey Kerr alongside him at Quail Hollow. Both Westwood and McIlroy have the chance to dethrone the resting Luke Donald as world number one, and Tiger Woods, like McIlroy, plays his first event since The Masters.
“Billy could not only miss this event, next week’s Players Championship and the PGA at Wentworth, but also the US Open and The Open,” said Westwood.
“I told him it’s a good job there’s no big tournaments coming up!
“Billy’s an integral part of the team and is very important. I’m not sure how it will affect me.”
Kerr usually works for Fred Couples, but the former Masters champion is currently suffering from flu. Westwood will be back at the top of the rankings for the first time in almost a year if he wins on Sunday, and McIlroy is outside the first six. But if Westwood does not lift the title, the Irishman — 23 this Friday — needs a top-seven finish to go to number one for the third time in just over two months.
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