MIAMI (Reuters) - It did not really need Donald Trump’s endorsement for world number one Rory McIlroy to know that his seven-under-par 65 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral on Sunday was a fine way to end a difficult week.
While the property magnate and owner of the Blue Monster course characteristically bustled into McIlroy’s chat with the media to declare “good job, he’s tough”, the Northern Irishman had already glanced at the leaderboard and seen himself inside the top 10 as he walked off the 18th green.
The PGA National course at Palm Beach Gardens may only be 85 miles from Doral and his mid-round walk-off there at the Honda Classic was just nine days ago, but that incident seemed almost distant history on Sunday.
“A day like today felt a long way away if I am honest. That has been one of my problems - I always think when I am playing bad that it is further away than it is,” he said.
After missing the cut in his two stroke-play tournaments so far this year, including his much-publicized withdrawal last week, McIlroy’s confident demeanor was once again evident.
He had started the final round tied in 30th place, three-under for the tournament, but produced a bogey-free round, starting with an eagle on the first, featuring five birdies and ending with a 12-foot putt to save par on the 18th.
The numbers said all that needed to be said, but McIlroy was more than happy to expand.
“It was pleasing to see some of the shots I hit out there and being able to convert some of them on the greens too,” McIlroy, who ended up 10 under par, told reporters.
“It was a good score out there and there are a lot of positive signs going into the next few weeks.”
McIlroy might not be back to his very best, the kind of effortless golf that he played in running away with last year’s PGA Championship, but this was his finest round of the year.
He said his swing problems were largely resolved in a Thursday night range session.
“I felt, just keep doing this, keep doing the rehearsals. I had a good range session then went out Friday, played a lot better and continued that over the weekend,” he said.
After a week which began with apologies for his behavior, talk of toothache and denials of any problems in his personal life, his mood was back to upbeat to the delight of his young fans, who screamed his name as he went to sign his card.
“I probably wear my heart on my sleeve with my golf. If I have a bad round, it’s sort of like the end of the world but if I play a good one, I’m happy again,” he said.
“That’s just the way it goes. I was pretty down about my game coming into this week but a few days like I’ve played and it does my confidence the world of good,” he said.
With the Masters a month way, McIlroy still has plenty of work to do and will play the Houston Open on March 25. He plans to devote the rest of his time to work on the range and a little R&R with his tennis star girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki.
“I’ll practice as hard as I can,” he said, before reflecting on the main lesson he had learned from one of his toughest weeks in the sport - the need to stay calm when facing adversity.
“I just have to stay patient and let whatever happens, happen and know that if I put in the hard work that the results will bear fruit - whether that is sooner or later, it doesn’t really matter.”
Reporting By Simon Evans, Editing by Larry Fine