- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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McIlroy, who spent the weekend playing golf near his boyhood home in Northern Ireland before traveling to the site of this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, was caught off guard when asked to respond to the nine-time major winner, who had suggested he needed to "find the right wife."
Player's comments were aired recently in a U.K. radio interview in which he suggested that McIlroy's relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki could be hurting his game.
"For a man like Rory with talent galore, he's got to make sure he has a woman like I've got, who has been married [to me] for 56 years, that has only encouraged me to do well and made sacrifices," Player, 77, said.
McIlroy, 24, said he hadn't heard about Player's remarks.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said at Firestone Country Club, where he is paired with Brandt Snedeker for the first two rounds.
"I have the utmost respect for Gary Player," McIlroy said. "He is an incredible man. Obviously the success he's had on the golf course, but just the way he's lived his life and how healthy he is. Obviously he's an inspiration for everyone. I don't know what he said. This is the first time I've heard it. I don't really know, all I know is I've got a lot of respect for the man, and he's someone that I definitely look up to."
McIlroy is suffering through a tough year after winning five times, including the PGA Championship, in 2012. He has no victories, has not contended in any of the major championships and has dropped to No. 3 in the world behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson after starting No. 1. He is coming off a missed cut at the Open Championship. Everything from his relationship with Wozniacki to his endorsement deal with Nike to switching managers has been cited for his struggles.
Two weeks ago at the Open Championship, six-time major winner Nick Faldo also questioned McIlroy's commitment.
"You have a window of opportunity," said Faldo, who works as an analyst for CBS and the Golf Channel. "That's my only words of wisdom to Rory. You have say a 20-year window as an athlete. Hopefully when you retire, 40s, 50s, hopefully you have 40 years to enjoy it. So just concentrate on golf."
McIlroy reacted to that by saying Faldo should know better.
"Nick should know how hard this game is at times. And he's been in our position before. And he should know how much work that we all do put into it," he said.
After shooting 79-75 at Muirfield to miss the cut, McIlroy took last week off, first spending time in Monaco with Wozniacki before heading home and playing golf for several days with friends near Belfast.
A year ago at this time, McIlroy was also in a slump but finished fifth at Firestone before winning the PGA Championship the following week at Kiawah by 8 strokes. He went on to win three more times, capturing the money title and player of the year honors on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.
"I was sitting up here this time last year probably not feeling as if my game was in great shape, and I'm sitting up here this year a lot more positive," McIlroy said. "So that's a great sign."