PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - Former world number ones Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have different comfort levels entering the Players Championship — one knowing what it takes to win at TPC Sawgrass, and the other still seeking to solve the puzzle of the famous course.
While Day blew away the field for a dominating four-stroke victory two years ago, McIlroy has not finished better than sixth in the event.
But the Northern Irishman says he has slowly learned the keys to success after missing the cut on his first three visits, and has at least given himself a chance of contending in his past few starts.
“I sort of learned to play the course a little bit better and reined myself in on some tee shots, and that’s what’s brought me a little bit of success here,” McIlroy said on Wednesday.
“Once I started to be a little more conservative, I started to sort of top-10 it and give myself half a chance.
“This is my ninth time here, so I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I think it is about time to step up and give myself a chance of victory.”
McIlroy has not had a bad season, highlighted by a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but this week will be his first high-pressure test since last month’s U.S. Masters disappointment.
Playing the final round with eventual winner Patrick Reed, McIlroy was never a factor after missing a four-foot eagle putt at the second hole.
“I took a lot of positives from the fact I probably didn’t have my best stuff at Augusta and I still was able to play my way into the final group and contend,” he said.
“So, yeah, it gives you motivation. There’s a lot of golf to play. We’re not even halfway through the season. We have got the other three major championships.”
McIlroy, a Manchester United fan, also offered his best wishes to Alex Ferguson as the club’s former manager seeks to recover from a brain hemorrhage.
“I’ve gotten to know Sir Alex pretty well over the years,” he said. “He’s a very driven individual. He says complacency is a disease.”
Complacency will not be a problem for Day, who has a burning desire to regain his world number one ranking.
Day has been focused on mechanics since winning the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, despite struggling with his swing.
He says his swing got knocked around in the wind last week, and that he started hitting big hooks, so he has been working hard with coach Col Swatton.
“I don’t usually bring Col into tournament, only because I typically like to work with him before events,” Day said.
“But I’ve had a three-week stretch here, and I feel the swing’s getting a little bit loose, so we just tried to even out the path a little bit.
“It’s still not quite there. I just need to hit the back of the ball with a square clubface. Pretty easy, right?”
Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond