PINEHURST, N.C. -- Rory McIlroy, June 2013 ...
"You want to contend and win tournaments, and I haven't done enough of that this year."
Rory McIlroy, June 2014 ...
"Yeah, with the way I've been playing and how I feel my game is, I'm one of the favorites coming in here."
Old Rory ... New Rory.
Rory :( ... Rory :)
Rory -- the semi-glum long shot to win the U.S. Open last year. Rory -- the completely confident favorite to win the Open this year.
At last, nobody is talking about his home address change, his agent change, his equipment change, or his fiancée change. Instead, there's serious talk this week of McIlroy kissing a trophy on Sunday rather than slamming a courtesy car trunk on Friday.
Welcome back, Rors.
"After the season I had in the majors last year, I was coming in this year and making them a real priority," McIlroy said. "I want to get in contention. I want to feel the buzz of being there on the last day of the majors and having a chance to win and being more consistent."
McIlroy's 2013 majors had less buzz than Applesauce Night at the Sheboygan Seniors Home. He was no factor in the Masters or U.S. Open. He shot offensive tackle jersey numbers at the Open Championship (75-79) and missed the cut. He had a T-8 at the PGA Championship, but nobody was inviting him to the East Room at the White House. He finished 7 shots out of the lead.
But this year is different. McIlroy is different.
You know about the May power couple breakup with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. You also know that he won the BMW PGA Championship later that same week.
But did you know that he has been churning out top-10 finishes this year like Ben & Jerry's churns out Cherry Garcia? He already has 10 on the PGA and European Tours combined.
McIlroy is more buff, more focused and, maybe in an unexpected way, more humbled by the events and struggles of the past year or so. Or as he said Wednesday: "[I'm] really finding my love for the game again. I'm really enjoying what I'm doing."
Pride isn't one of McIlroy's deadly sins. He isn't allergic to taking advice, which is why he recently sought the counsel of the great Jack Nicklaus. McIlroy spent two hours at Nicklaus' offices in North Palm Beach, Florida, last week.
"He's been great," McIlroy said. "And to have that at my disposal is -- I mean, it has to be an advantage in some way."
They talked about everything. About life. About business. About marketing. Jack even gigged McIlroy about his weird habit this season of going low on Thursdays, but then playing member-guest golf for nine holes on Fridays.
"He goes, 'How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?' " McIlroy said. "I said, 'I wasn't meaning to, Jack. I'm trying not to.' "
McIlroy can laugh about it now. He can laugh about a lot of things now.
He has submerged himself in golf, in his career. He has streamlined his life by ending an engagement. His cell phone no longer rules his day. He got rid of his laptop. His posts on Twitter are less frequent -- and will stay that way.
"I just want to live my life like a normal 25-year-old," McIlroy said. "I know that that's sometimes hard to do because of the public spotlight that I'm under, or whatever it is. ... But, of course, you need a balance in your life where you are interested in other things. I'm not different than other 25-year-olds in the world."
He's a little different. McIlroy has a chance to win a second U.S. Open. They don't.