Rory happy with reduced attention
Rory McIlroy has breathed a sigh of relief at Royal Lytham this week after finding himself out of the media spotlight.
This time last year the 23-year-old Northern Irishman could hardly move at Sandwich without being swarmed over either by autograph hunters, a media pack hungry for quotes or fellow players wanting to congratulate him.
He was making his first appearance since winning his first major title by eight shots at the US Open - with a record score and at a younger age than any holder of the title since Bobby Jones in 1923.
No wonder that, given his tender years, he found it all a little bit suffocating and no wonder that after finishing a disappointing 25th at the Open he said a few things he now says he did not really mean.
It is different on the Lancashire coast - he has missed four of his last six halfway cuts and messed up the chance to win one of the other two events with a closing double-bogey six.
McIlroy, though, points out that he did reach world number one for a while earlier this season and he is happy not to have such a bright spotlight on him as he prepares.
"It's been great," he said in a press conference noticeably less crowded than 12 months ago.
"It's been lovely just going about my business - definitely not the madness that was going on last year.
"It's nice. I've tried to keep it as low-key as possible and feel like I've done that pretty well.
"Obviously people still come up and want photos and stuff, but the commotion's definitely not as bad."
Calling his recent form "just a little blip in the radar", McIlroy is also content with how he is swinging the club and at the very least hopes to do better than he did in Kent.
"I think taking three weeks off before was something to do with it," he said of his performance there. "Obviously there were so many requests coming in and so many things to do.
"The hype and everything was so big as well that it maybe had a little bit to do with it, but at the end of the day I just didn't play well enough to figure in the tournament."
He left saying he could not wait to get back to some good weather in America and doubting his ability ever to get in the hunt when the going was rough.
He now insists: "Those comments were just pure frustration with having really high expectations going into it, coming off a major win.
"Blaming the weather, blaming the draw, blaming my luck - that was just frustration. Looking back I just didn't handle the conditions as best I could have.
"That's something that I'm trying to do more of and to some degree at Portrush (in the Irish Open two weeks ago) I felt like I played well in the bad conditions.
"If it's like that again this week you're just going to have to knuckle down and focus and keep fighting."
McIlroy has employed a practice tip given to him by Jack Nicklaus, no less.
Golf's great major champion - 18 to the current 14 of Tiger Woods - advised him to play only one ball and keep a score.
"Sunday I played the last 13 holes with one ball, before that on Friday afternoon I played the back nine and the last couple of days I've tried to play the last four holes," he said.
"Friday I shot four under, which was good, yesterday my target was one under and I did that (he won a coffee off his caddie for that) and today didn't go so well - I shot one over for the last four.
"It was definitely good advice, especially if you haven't played a tournament in a week or two.
"It gets you back into that competitive frame of mind. You're seeing shots and focusing on targets because sometimes in a practice round you're just trying to see the course.
" Sometimes you're just going through the motions."