- Associated Press - Thursday, May 9, 2013

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Rory McIlroy won two major championships at age 23. He was the youngest player since Tiger Woods to reach No. 1 in the world. He was won the money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season.

Now if he can just break par on the TPC at Sawgrass. Or at least make it to the weekend.

McIlroy keeps showing signs that his game his emerging from an early season slump. His next stop is Thursday in The Players Championship, a tournament that hasn’t been kind to him in his three previous trips.

He has missed the cut every time, never posting a score better than 72.

So what’s the problem?

“The first year I came here, I was in Vegas the week before. That didn’t help,” McIlroy said with a boyish smile. “The second year was my 21st birthday. That didn’t help.”

And last year?

“I don’t have an excuse,” he said.

Upon leaving last year, he said his career was young and he would have another 20 years, hopefully, playing this tournament. And if didn’t get the hang of it by then, something would be wrong.

He’s still learning, though a few holes in his practice round Wednesday also showed he was picking up some of the nuances.

McIlroy was perplexed while playing the sixth hole Wednesday. He hit two shots off the tee, one in the fairway and one in the rough, about the same distance. He hit an iron with the ball in the fairway, pin-high about 15 feet left of the flag. He used the same club from the rough and watched it sail over the green. That’s the trouble with this rough. It’s not very high, and the ball can jump out of there.

As he played the par-5 ninth, caddie J.P. Fitzgerald reminded him that it’s best to lay up on the hole. McIlroy smashed his tee shot and his caddie told him, “You have 266 (yards) to the front. Perfect 5-iron.” McIlroy followed his instructions, hit the shot and then threw down another ball and asked for the 3-wood.

He missed to the right of the green, shrugged and said, “Just wanted to get it out of my system.”

In discussing the course, McIlroy is coming to the same conclusion. It’s OK to be aggressive, as long as he picks the right spots.

“I think you’ve got to find a balance around here of being conservative, but also you have to take on things, as well,” he said. “There is no point in not hitting the driver anywhere around here because you’re not going to make enough birdies to contend, but you don’t want to be hitting driver everywhere either because you’re going to find trouble. So you have to find a balance.

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