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Back to business for major-hungry McIlroy

Bob Harig | ESPN.com
July 30, 2014
Rory McIlroy joins golf's greats after lifting the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool

The drinks flowed, and several of Rory McIlroy's tour brethren joined him for a celebratory night out at a Liverpool establishment following his Open Championship victory at Hoylake.

But if the evening was a bit more subdued than you might think for such an occasion, McIlroy has good reason.

"It was the first time I'd ever been in a nightclub with my parents and it was a bit surreal and weird," he said.

McIlroy's private life played out in public this year with the engagement and then break-up with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. He's in the midst of a legal battle with a former agent, finds his name in the tabloid press back in Ireland, has had his share of on-course frustrations, including a celebrated walk-off at the Honda Classic last year.

All that and he's just 25, as that celebratory story reminds us.

McIlroy's ready for his fourth major title after winning No.3 at Hoylake © Getty Images
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And yet, he is showing a good bit of maturity in the aftermath of his Open triumph. He had that night out in Liverpool and then another the following evening with his friends in Belfast.

But by July 23, McIlroy was back to work, engaging in a long-planned fitness test. He returned to Florida on Friday and spent the weekend working on his game, preparing for a long stretch of golf, including this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and next week's PGA Championship.

And if there is any weariness from it all, McIlroy is not showing it. In fact, he says bring it on.

"I didn't grow up wanting to lead a normal life. I grew up wanting to win major championships," he said. "I think you can still do both. You can still lead a relatively normal life. Like, obviously, always the week after winning a big tournament like the Open, it's going to be that's abnormal. That's not something you're going to have to deal with week in and week out, but I think you can still have the drive and the dedication to try to become one of the best players ever and still do relatively normal things."

That doesn't mean he has a goal in mind. Unlike Tiger Woods, who made it clear that Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors was what he was after, McIlroy said he's never put a number on it. The next goal is winning number four.

Interestingly, it was Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, who sent through one of the first messages of congratulations after his victory. McIlroy has gotten closer to Nicklaus now that his Florida home is near the Golden Bear.

"I think his career is progressing very nicely and I think he's going to win a lot of major championships," Nicklaus said last week. "I love his swagger. I love his demeanor. I love the way he has a confident cockiness, yet he's not offensive with it. Self-confidence I guess you would call it. I've spent a little time with him and I like him very much."

McIlroy spent time with Nicklaus after the Memorial Tournament, picking his brain about business, but also gathering some golf wisdom as well. Among the subjects that arose was McIlroy opening the Memorial Tournament with a 63, only to shoot 78 the next day. "How the hell do you go from 63 to 78," Nicklaus said, McIlroy chuckling at the memory.

He might not be after Nicklaus' major record, but McIlroy appears to have Jack's mind-set as far as how to proceed.

"I think every time you have success, you need to reassess your goals because it's only halfway, two-thirds through the season, and a lot of the goals that I set myself for the start of the year, I've achieved already," McIlroy said. "So that's when you have to reassess and say like, okay, you've boxed that off. It's great. Celebrate it for a couple of days, but then you've got to move on. You've got to keep moving forward and keep thinking about what you want to achieve from now until the end of the year.

"And then at the end of the year, you can really reflect on everything you've done and enjoy it. So it's a springboard. I feel like I've got a lot of momentum, and I can carry that through to the end of the year and hopefully ride that and play some really good golf and some golf similar to what you saw at Hoylake."

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com

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