Rory McIlroy returns to action at The Players Championship with an entirely new equipment set-up after announcing he had signed a deal with TaylorMade.
The long-term sponsorship deal with the US golf equipment manufacturer was also confirmed by the company on Tuesday and is reported to be worth around £77m ($100m) over a decade.
The significant changes are a reaction to his disappointing performance at the Masters, after which he went through some “extensive” club and ball testing before taking time away from golf for his wedding to long-time partner Erica Stoll.
McIlroy has changed every club in his bag and has also opted to put the TaylorMade TP5x ball into play at TPC Sawgrass this week, and the world No 2 believes his all-new set-up will help him regain the world No 1 ranking from Dustin Johnson, who he will play alongside for the opening two rounds this week.
“I’m really excited that I have teamed up with TaylorMade,” he said at his pre-tournament press conference. “I needed to address a few issues after Augusta, and I alluded to the fact that I wasn’t really happy with the golf ball I was playing and I needed to do something.
“I felt like I struggled in the wind, so I went back to the drawing board and tested for about 10 days pretty extensively after Augusta, worked with a lot of different things. I worked with the TaylorMade guys and saw stuff with the golf ball, that new TP5x, and I thought, wow, this is what I need, this is exactly the thing that I’ve been struggling with.
“Over the over the course of the next few days, I tested different combinations, a lot of different stuff, and I came to the conclusion that that was the best way forward for me to try and improve, try and win more, try to get back to world No 1, try to win more majors. So I’m really excited about that.
“I’ve been on Tour for 10 years, and it’s very rare that you get really excited about your equipment. I feel like it’s a new chapter in my life with a lot of stuff going on, but I really feel with the new equipment, as well, it’s hopefully going to take me to that next level.”
McIlroy feels his game is in good shape ahead of his first tournament as a married man, and he is confident that he can contend for golf’s “fifth major” at Sawgrass despite having not played competitively since finishing tied for seventh at Augusta National five weeks ago.
“The last few weeks have been really cool,” he added. “Obviously I got married and went on honeymoon and enjoyed that. We got back home to Florida last week and I’ve been trying to lose a bit of weight before this week.
“But I feel like my game’s in good shape. I needed to address a few issues in between Augusta and here, and I did that with the first 10 days after Augusta and then turned my attentions elsewhere, but feel really good coming into this event.
“I still feel like on my day I’m the best player in the world, but there’s a lot of competition out here. There are times you doubt yourself and I think everyone has that. I think that’s natural. There’s going to be times, because there’s so many different aspects of the game, that you might be excelling at one part but you know you’re not quite there in another.
“So it’s just like trying to balance that and balance expectations, but at the same time you have to believe. Confidence comes and goes and that’s the mental part of it, and very few players have mastered that over their careers. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods were the best mentally, and that’s why their records are so good.”
McIlroy also expressed his admiration for Johnson and admits he faces a tough task to reel in the world No 1, who currently has close to a five-point lead at the top of the rankings, but the four-time major champion is relishing the challenge.
“Dustin just keeps doing it, he’s been so impressive,” McIlroy said. “Obviously he got very unfortunate with what happened at Augusta, but I was actually hitting some balls the week after Augusta and he was out at the Bear’s Club and he looked okay, although he still couldn’t really get through it with the driver that much.
“But I watched a little bit of the golf at the weekend, and he’s on a roll and he keeps going. I think he’s got a five-point lead in the world rankings at the minute, which is huge, it really is. It’s a big lead, and he’s played great and he deserves that lead.
“I don’t think it will faze him being where he is in the world of golf. I don’t think anything fazes him, that’s probably the understatement of the year, but I can’t see him falling off or dropping off. It’s up to the other guys to try and catch him.”