February 20, 2013 in Sports

McIlroy hopes for better start in Match Play tourney

Doug Ferguson Associated Press

(Full-size photo)

MARANA, Ariz. – Rory McIlroy put a new putter in his bag and a new shaft in his driver.

He has no way of knowing whether that means his second tournament of the year will last any longer than his first one.

The world’s No. 1 player made a big splash last month at the Abu Dhabi Championship in more ways than he imagined. He was introduced as Nike’s latest client, complete with a laser show and high expectations, only to miss the cut in his debut.

Next up is the Match Play Championship, which starts today with McIlroy as the top seed.

“I was packing my bags the other night and I’m thinking, ‘How many shirts did I bring? How many pairs of pants?’ Yeah, it’s one of those weeks where you’ve just got to try and get through every round, and you face different opposition every day.”

McIlroy reached the championship match a year ago, losing to Hunter Mahan.

So much has changed since then. He has risen to No. 1 in the world, won another major at the PGA Championship by a record eight shots, and then really drew attention to himself with a Nike deal said to be worth upward of $20 million a year.

After one tournament that lasted only two rounds, the skeptics included six-time major champion Nick Faldo. He said it was “dangerous” to change equipment. Speaking from his own experience a generation ago, Faldo said that while the specifications can be duplicated, that doesn’t take into account the feel of the club, the sound it makes and the confidence that gets developed.

“Nick Faldo doesn’t know how I feel over the golf shot and I don’t know how he felt,” McIlroy said. “Buy my guess is he was a little more analytically minded than I am. I try and keep things as simple as possible. If I see the ball going in the direction that I want, in the flight that I want, then I’m happy. It feels good, and hopefully, I can show that to everyone this week.”

He opens against Shane Lowry, whom he has known since they were juniors playing Irish golf events. McIlroy will try to avoid becoming the third No. 1 seed to lose in the opening round in the last four years.

At stake is getting more rounds under his belt on the road to the Masters.

“I’m actually much happier with how I’m swinging the club,” he said. “The clubs were performing fine in Abu Dhabi. I wasn’t swinging at my best.”

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