McIlroy happy with being returning champion


SAN FRANCISCO – Rory McIlroy has finally hit the big-time.

A major championship? Not bad. A stint atop the world ranking? Cool. A world-class tennis-playing girlfriend? Hey, whatever floats your boat.

These days, though, a celebrity hasn’t truly made it big until he’s received his own bobblehead doll (pictured above). With a likeness that he calls “maybe better looking than me, which is a good thing” given out at Tuesday night’s San Francisco Giants game as part of Irish Heritage Night, McIlroy has been launched into an echelon that includes everyone from rock-and-roll stars to low-level politicians.

Like them – and their bobbleheads, too – McIlroy has a penchant for nodding his noggin at times, less yes man than just an agreeable lad.

In advance of his title defense at this week’s 112th U.S. Open Championship, the 23-year-old was peppered by reporters on a variety of topics and, much like his saluting statue, appeared amenable to most hypotheses.

Video: Rory McIlroy news conference

Video: Tiger Woods news conference

Video: Phil Mickelson news conference

On whether he’s enjoyed returning to the U.S. Open as defending champion:

Yeah, for sure. It's been a great 12 months. To play these 12 months as a major champion and get to deal with everything that comes along with that has been a great experience…

On whether his recent string of three straight missed cuts hurt his confidence:

Yeah, of course it does. I think it's only natural you just start to question yourself and question your game a little bit…

On whether last week’s title contention helped that confidence:

Yeah, it was important for me. That was the whole reason to go to Memphis last week…

On whether his definition of a successful week has changed:

Yeah, it has, for sure. You're not just happy with top 10's anymore, and you're not happy finishing in the top five…

On whether becoming No. 1 once again will be tougher than he once thought:

Yeah, it is what it is. Luke has got a little bit of a lead. But it's so volatile, it can just change so much… 

On whether this week’s course setup will be exceedingly severe:

Yeah, I mean you've got to concentrate over every shot here...

All those “yeahs” are enough to leave a guy bobblin’ his head for minutes after being prompted, but the accordances underscore the meaning behind the rhetoric. In simpler terms, he may be agreeable, but McIlroy isn’t without articulate opinions – from his own game to course setup to, well, anything else that he’s asked to address.

With world-class players like Matteo Manassero four years his junior and Andy Zhang reaching this week’s field at age 14, we sometimes overlook McIlroy’s youthfulness. Perhaps that’s a result of being a professional for a half-decade already or enjoying so much early success in his career, but mostly it’s due to his interview room proficiency and lack of trying to hide his viewpoints or push any agendas.

McIlroy is indeed a rare breath of fresh air in a celebrity world where Q-rating so often stands for anything but quality.

He speaks his mind, which is all anyone can ask for when, well, asking something.

“Last year at Congressional it was great to get that monkey off my back, if you want to say that, very early in my career,” he said. “It's been great. The last 12 months has been fantastic. I felt like I played very well in that time. And really looking forward to this week and giving it a good go in trying to defend.”

Whatever happens, he’ll always have that bobbling doppelganger to nod along in agreement.

And don’t think others haven’t taken notice. When asked why the world’s No. 2-ranked player has his own ceramic likeness and he doesn’t, No. 1-ranked Luke Donald explained that he still has work left to do.

“Probably win a U.S. Open by eight shots,” he said. “Or at least by one.”

Rory McIlroy wasn’t around when he said those words, but no doubt he would have agreed, his self-described better-looking bobblehead nodding in unison.