Finally recovered from the injuries that derailed much of last year, Rory McIlroy has returned fit and firing in 2018 - and has just picked up his first victory in 539 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Here, in extracts taken from an exclusive interview with our sister magazine Golf World, Rory explains how he’s ready to make up for lost time, and leading Tour coach Nick Bradley shows his five new power moves to get more distance (jump to).
Q: Are you now 100% fit? How much of a difference does that make to your practice schedule and ability to perform at your best? Where did this lack of fitness/health hurt your game the most?
RM: Yes, thankfully, I'm over my injury and feel fully fit. Throughout most of 2017, I was hampered by a rib injury which prevented me from practising and working with my coach Michael Bannon. I was forced to adapt my swing to accommodate this physical restriction and this is always sub-optimal. This resulted in me being underprepared for tournaments and not being able to compete at the level to which I aspire. I have worked hard on my tness during the off-season and have been able to make some positive changes to my swing, which I am very excited about.
Q: What are your targets for this year – do you have a checklist like Justin Thomas?
RM: Yes, I have goals for the year which are both process and results orientated. Improving certain statistical areas on my game will in turn produce better results. It is simple but it works.
Q: What's your assessment of the landscape of professional golf right now – and the fact a lot of young players are ghting it out rather than one or two dominant players?
RM: Professional golf is in an incredibly exciting place right now. The depth of each eld on Tour is stronger than it has ever been. A combination of better technology, improved equipment and ceaseless dedication has raised the gol ng bar over the last few years. We're de nitely seeing multiple contenders each week rather than having a couple of players dominating. That said, Dustin has a commanding position as No. 1 at the moment and the challenge for the rest of us is to up our games and pressurise him for that top spot.
Q: Do you feel under more pressure to perform now, given the heightened level of competition, than say five years ago?
RM: There's no question about the extreme competitiveness in today's game, and pressure naturally comes with that. Of course, there was tremendous depth of talent five years ago, too, but the change for me in recent seasons is down to the reduction in multiple winners on Tour, even in the majors. It appears that there are just so many potential winners at each event now that it is increasingly dif cult to visualise the same winner week on week. I do like to think that I will be the one being chased by the pack again, but I'm under no illusion that my game will have to be at its very best to achieve that.
Q: How much is a potential career grand slam at the Masters on your mind?
RM: That will be on my mind until the deed is done! Joking aside, there will always be a lot of attention and hype around any golfer trying to put the nal piece of the career grand slam together. Jordan needs a PGA and Phil needs a US Open to complete the set. Right now, I think there is a certain emphasis on me because the Masters is the season's first major, because I almost had one in the bag, and because the course sets up so well for me. And while each year is a new challenge, I can't really prepare much differently than I have in the past. I've decided on a busier schedule in this year's build-up mainly because I have had no competitive golf since the autumn of 2017. As ever, though, I'll just keep working on the parts of my game that need to be sharper and hopefully bring to Augusta in April a confidence and belief to have me in the mix come Sunday.
McIlroy has made several key changes to his swing during the winter with the goal of improving his consistency, says leading Tour coach Nick Bradley. Learn from them
#1: Hands higher at address
In the past, Rory has had a tendency to get his hands a touch low at address. His right arm now is a little higher than it used to be and more in line with the shaft of the club. He's also standing taller at address to help facilitate this change.
#2: More left arm rotation
Rory has a tendency to get the club too far outside the hands in the takeaway – a move that causes him to get the club too steep going back. It looks like he is trying to make more of a one-plane swing. For him, that means more left arm rotation.
#3: Flatter left wrist
In the past, McIlroy has allowed his left wrist to get too 'cupped' at the top of the swing. The angle is now much atter and his right elbow is less ared than in the past . From the takeaway, McIlroy has maintained the feeling of the left arm rotating aggressively all the way to the top. Here, he looks very much like Tiger from 2006. It's almost Hogan-esque.
#4: Full pressure through impact
The most likely reason for Rory to initiate these changes is to help him keep the club more in front of him during the downswing. This will help him swing down on a more neutral path and plane, allowing him to release fully through the ball.
#5: More room to start down
As usual, Rory's leg work is just great but he has a tendency to get his body a little 'stuck'during his transition. I would imagine the changes he has made to his swing are designed to alleviate the effects of this problem.