Rory McIlroy has revealed the part that Wayne Rooney played in his brilliant victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a win which led to a surprisingly low-key celebration.
McIlroy carded a superb final round of 64 to triumph at Bay Hill, coincidentally his first title since the Tour Championship on September 25, 2016, the day seven-time major winner Palmer died.
Much was made of the influence of a putting lesson earlier in the week from former Ryder Cup player Brad Faxon, but Everton forward Rooney also inadvertently played a part in McIlroy’s best putting performance on the PGA Tour.
“We were talking about different sports and he (Faxon) was talking about a free-throw shooter in basketball,” McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference ahead of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin.
“We were talking about triggers, about how do you start your putting stroke. Everyone has different ways and I said Wayne Rooney before he takes a free-kick or a penalty he taps his toe on the ground before he actually starts his run-up. I noticed it when I shot a Nike commercial with him a few years ago.”
Whether it was Faxon or Rooney who had the biggest effect, the result was a bogey-free final round featuring eight birdies, five of which came in the last six holes.
But, asked how he celebrated his victory on Sunday evening, McIlroy added: “It was two glasses of wine and a big bowl of ice cream. And I watched the highlights, but I fell asleep before the fireworks started on the 15th (where he chipped in for birdie).”
McIlroy might well appreciate the early night this week at Austin Country Club, where he will need to win seven matches over five days to claim the title for the second time in four years.
And, also on the horizon is the Masters at Augusta National, which the 28-year-old needs to win to become only the sixth player to have won all four major titles.
“I’m very happy to have my game in this shape going into the first major of the year of course,” the world number seven said.
“Even if I hadn’t have won last week, just to see the signs that my game was in good shape would have been good enough for me knowing that going into Augusta I was ready to play well.
“I’ve had three goes at winning the grand slam and I’d had maybe 12 or 13 majors before I won my first one so you could say the first one was maybe a little bit harder, but I only get one opportunity a year at Augusta.
“The last three years I’ve played well, not well enough, and hopefully I put the last piece of the puzzle in there this year and get it done.
“I’m optimistic that I can go ahead and do this more often. I’ve crossed that line that I needed to. I hadn’t won in the past 18 months and it was a real validation.
“I’m optimistic about not just the next few weeks but the whole season now. It’s great to get a win early and I’ve got all that great stuff to fall back on from how I handled everything on Sunday.”