Rory McIlroy:’ Trump’s whole circus, this big indicate, is intriguing to watch’

The four-times major winner tells Ewan Murray of the compassion he feels for Tiger Woods and his own preparations for the Masters in April after recovering from a rib injury

It would have seemed unfathomable in 2014, when Rory McIlroy was celebrating victory at the US PGA Championship at Valhalla, that his carry of four majors would remain unchanged in 2017. It is still a source of general bemusement. As he contemplates his return from a rib injury at next weeks World Golf Championship in Mexico, McIlroy builds it clear his competitive fire has never burned more intensely.

I want to be the best golfer in the world, he says. I want to be ranked the best golfer in the world. I want everyone to think Im the best golfer in the world.

There is nothing like that impression of winning a major. I won the FedEx Cup last year and that was great, as was being part of the Ryder Cup the following week, but for me winning a major? There is no greater impression in golf.

Knowing you are writing your name into history books where nobody can take that away from you, or having your name on those famous trophies. Thats the thing that really gets me running and I havent felt that for a while. I want to have that feeling again.

Thats not to do with ego or me trying to say: Im the best. Its about the blis and adrenaline hurry you get. Ive had a lot of spare time over the last few weeks and I watched Congressional [ where he won the 2011 US Open ] back, I watched Valhalla back. Being in the hot of the combat, get that rushing, thats the thing that get me going. I havent had that for a while and I want it back.

Golf was different for McIlroy then. He had won the BMW PGA Championship in May and the Open in July. He brushes aside the suggestion that this run made it almost inevitable he would win at Valhalla. Yes, I was stimulating majors look not routine but Id won four in four years, he says. I havent won in a couple of years but the greatest players in video games have gone through stretches of no majors in a couple of years.

Jack Nicklaus went through a stretch from 1967 to 1970. Tiger won 14 of them from 1997 to 2008, but thats not normal. That is so far from the norm. I was averaging one a year over a four-year stretch which was fantastic and I could do it again; Im 27, say I go on that run again, four majors by 31.

All of a sudden, eight majors aged 31 and you are feeling OK about yourself. You only have to trust the process.

This is a long career. Ive insured it in society with this generation. People had now become exceedingly impatient and I get that way myself sometimes. My period is going to come again when things fall my style and I win a few more. Im confident of that. You cant force the issue.

Rory McIlroy holds up the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship in 2014 – his most recent major title. Photo: John Locher/ AP

Patience has been necessary for McIlroy since a stress fracture to a rib in mid-January. I felt useless. I couldnt even lift my suitcase, he recalls. His recovery from the trauma has offered him reinvigoration and an element of relaxation. I could have probably pushed through to play the Honda Classic[ this week] but I wanted to take that extra week to make sure and, even if it comes to the phase where Im not 100% comfy, Ill take another couple of weeks off. But Im on target for Mexico.

It has been frustrating; you insure Jordan Spieth win, Dustin Johnson win and it is never good to feel like you are falling behind. You feel like if only we out there, you might be able to do something about it.

My short game is as sharp as it has in the past felt because that was all I could work on for a while. My golf should be sharp enough. The big concern is just construct sure I can play four rounds in a row without doing any injury again.

I still have tournaments to get ready for Augusta, which is the biggest tournament of my year, and Ive no problem saying that. Its the one major Im yet to win. As long as Im good for that, I dont care what it takes. Thats my main goal and it will continue as my main goal until I win it.

Last weekend McIlroy accepted an invitation from Donald Trump, who is making a habit of taking to the fairways with the sports biggest names, to play a round with the US president at the Trump International in Florida. He says he is massively interested in the US political scene.

I actually got into it once Trump ran because I knew him a little bit but at the same period I was intrigued how a successful industrialist could transition into running for the highest office in the land, McIlroy says. It is a totally different process from the UK. He patently came at it from a quite different angle.

Ive said it to the man himself; on a Tuesday night at a tournament, if there was a live[ political] debate, I would get room service, stick on CNN and just watch. It was pure amusement, even if you didnt understand politics it was this complete phenomenon.

Something like this probably wont happen again in our lifetime. Im very attuned to it, I watch a lot of news. You cant avoid it. I had no interest in politics until a couple of years ago; now I cant seem to get away from it.

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February 19, 2017

I feel like Ive bided unpolitical to its implementation of Northern Ireland and all that goes on there but because Im not an American I dont feel a real part of it; Im just interested by the phenomenon of it all. I dont actually care about the policies. The whole circus, this big show is intriguing to watch.

On Friday evening, McIlroy defended the golf match with Trump. In a post on his Twitter account, he wrote: I dont agree with everything my friends or family say or do, but I still play golf with them. I was invited to play golf with the President of the United States. Whether you respect the person who holds that posture or not, you respect the office that he holds.

That wasnt an endorsement or a political statement of any kind. It was, quite simply, a round of golf. Golf was our common ground , nothing else. Ive travelled all over the world and have been fortunate enough to befriend people from many different countries, beliefs and cultural activities. To be called a fascist and a bigot by some people because I spent time in people company is just ridiculous. I hope, to some degree, this clarifies my decision to accept the invitation that was extended to me.

Not lost on McIlroy is the switching of next weeks tournament from Doral, which Trump owns, to Mexico City. Logistically Doral was one of the favourites for the players because youd play the Honda Classic, drive an hour and a half and be there, he adds. With everything that has happened over the past few months, I wouldnt be surprised to see us back at Doral at some point.

It was the Trump show for the past couple of years but thats understandable; you had a guy running to be president of the United States, of course it would be that route. It will be a little bit different now but I think its a good thing to take World Golf Championships around the world. Id love to see a WGC in Australia or South Africa.

McIlroy has watched the recent battles of Woods with a sympathetic eye. Although he only connotes it, one wonders if McIlroy believes the 14 -time major winner moved past the point of golfing return when withdrawing from the Dubai Desert Classic.

I never supposed I would say this but I felt sorry for him, tells McIlroy. I only felt bad for the guy that his body wont allow him to do what he wants to do. I cant imagine anything so debilitating where you cant even stand up to do a press conference.

Tiger was a child star, he was used to being out there winning golf tournaments since he was 10. I know thats not what he values his life around but it must be hard to still want to do that but have it taken away because you cant physically get to where you want to be. Plainly there is a physical combat there but there has to be a mental fight as well.

Im glad that he has other things in their own lives. He has his children and is so committed to them. If he didnt have that it would be so hard. He is still young, he has another half of his life to live. Golf is minuscule compared to watching your children grow up. Thats where my priority would be now.

Playing tournament golf would be a bonus and awesome but life is more important than golf, which is what people have to remember when speaking about Tiger Woods. Everyone ensure him as a golfer , not a person. Tiger doesnt owe anyone in video games. He has nothing to prove to anyone. I just hope he gets healthy and happy.

McIlroys desire to embrace a life outside the ropes remains one of his most endearing qualities. That wont change. Youre a journalist but does journalism ingest you? he asks. No, you plainly have other interests and other things going on in your life. Its the same for me. Im a golfer but golf doesnt consume me. Its a big part of my life but not all of it. I have lots of other things that Im interested in and passionate about. Theres checks and balances there. You require that balance. Jack Nicklaus, who has the greatest major record of all time, wasnt consumed by golf. He got away from it, expended day with his family but once he was playing golf, in that role, he was eaten; which is what Im like. You have to be able to switch on and switch off.

It has taken me a while to deal with external pressure. Im now very comfortable in my own scalp. Im comfortable with who I am. I feel like winning majors isnt what defines me; I have other things in my life. Look, this is my career and what Ive always dreamed of but there are other things that are important to me as well. All I try to do is please my expectation and, if I do that, Im doing OK. I know what people suppose, what people say, what people believe I should achieve, but sometimes those expectations dont match up with mine.

Could McIlroy step away from the sport which has afforded him fame and luck relatively early? Ill be in a position where hopefully Ill have that choice to stimulate, he tells. Right now if someone says to me, You are 45 and not playing on tour, what do you do? Id struggle to find an answer but that may be different in 15 years time.

My life will change in the near future with getting married, Im sure well try to start a family not right after that but a little time after that. Things change, you grow up and priorities become different. Thats not a bad thing. Some guys have played their best golf after that transition in their life. Until Im 35 at the least, maybe 40, I have a really good chance where hopefully Ill be healthy and in my prime to give this a good run, stimulating the best career for myself that I maybe can. McIlroy has never sounded so professionally driven. Perhaps this serves as an indicator of things to come.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at the BMW Championship in September, 2012: I just hope he gets healthy and happy. Photo: Warren Little/ Getty Images

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