PINEHURST, N.C. -- Rory McIlroy is not afraid of commitments, or much of anything else at this point. He is comfortable acknowledging that he is one of the favorites to win the U.S. Open in the absence of you-know-who. And he is determined to go on after ending his engagement with what's-her-name.
"I just want to live my life like a normal 25-year-old,'' said the 2011 U.S. Open champion who recently won Europe's prestigious BMW PGA Championship in the very week he broke up with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. He has sworn off social media and has committed himself to the career that has sagged since he looked so dominant at the 2012 PGA Championship.
"I'm really enjoying my golf at the minute, and just making that the No. 1 priority. That's what I want to continue to do and I feel like, if I do that, it will give me a great chance to win some of these big tournaments coming up,'' he said Wednesday on the eve of the 114th U.S. Open. "Golf has sort of been a nice release for me the past few weeks. I just want to try to keep focused on that.''
Oddsmakers have established him as the best bet to win the tournament on Pinehurst No. 2, although it is hard to say who is going to do what this week. The course has been restored to its native look in the 1930s and, unusual for an Open, it has large sandy waste areas and no thick rough.
McIlroy does have one advantage: fresh advice from the greatest major winner of all time. He had a two-hour conversation last Wednesday with Jack Nicklaus, who occasionally has advised the young man from Holywood, Northern Ireland. During the talk in Nicklaus' Florida office (after McIlroy had to bow out of a dinner invitation to the Nicklaus home), inconsistency was a topic. McIlroy is averaging 5.9 strokes worse on Fridays than on Thursdays in PGA Tour events.
"He goes, 'How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?' I said, 'I wasn't meaning to, Jack. I'm trying not to.' He said to me he was never afraid to change things up in the middle of a round if it wasn't going well, if he felt like he wasn't swinging well,'' McIlroy said, indicating that he might very well put the 18-time major winner's ideas into practice this week.
With or without it, McIlroy's recent play emboldened him to say that winning two majors this year is a realistic goal and that he would like to be world No. 1 again.
Speaking of which, he was asked about the player whose name has been more conspicuously absent this week than U.S. Open rough: Tiger Woods.
"I'm sad. I miss him, yes,'' McIlroy said with deadpan timing that drew laughter from the crowd in the interview room.
"In the absence of Tiger, it has let people come through and be more recognized and shine for how good they are. Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba [Watson], Jordan Spieth -- there's a lot of great players on this Tour,'' he said.
Still, he was unafraid to add that those golfers wouldn't be where they are without the longtime No. 1.
"When I say I do miss him, I sort of mean it,'' McIlroy said, "because any tournament where Tiger Woods is a factor, he creates a big buzz.''