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McIlroy staying grounded after scaling Quail Hollow heights

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Britain's Rory McIlroy reached dizzying heights with his spectacular victory at last week's Quail Hollow Championship but he plans to keep his long-term goals firmly grounded.

"I don't want to get myself too carried away," McIlroy told reporters on the eve of Thursday's opening round of the Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass.

"It was a great weekend and I played really, really well. But this win doesn't mean I'm going to contend in the majors right away. I really hope I do, but it's a very long career.

"I feel pretty comfortable in that sort of environment. If I can learn something every time I play a major, by the time I'm 23, 24, I should be in a good position to go after them."

Just over a year ago, Tiger Woods predicted the Northern Irishman, then aged 19, was capable of inheriting his crown as world number one. Most of McIlroy's peers agree.

STUNNING EXECUTION

The Briton's victory at Quail Hollow, while stunning in its execution, was perhaps even more impressive in that he overhauled and then held off multiple major winners Phil Mickelson and Angel Cabrera.

"It's all about self-belief, knowing that I beat a great field there on basically a major championship venue, especially with the likes of Phil and Angel coming behind me," McIlroy said.

"To hold them off and play great golf like that down the stretch just gives me that belief if I can do it there I can pretty much do it anywhere."

McIlroy said he gained inspiration for his superb closing round at Quail Hollow from Japanese teen-ager Ryo Ishikawa, who won the Crowns tournament in Japan earlier in the day after shooting a magical 12-under-par 58.

"I turned on the PGA Tour website Sunday morning and saw Ryo had shot 58 to win," McIlroy added. "That drove me to say: 'All right, I can go out and shoot a good score and try to win this golf tournament.'

"You know, we're all driving each other to try to become better."

McIlroy is scheduled to tee off at 1328 local (1728 GMT) with South Korea's KJ Choi and American Bill Haas in Thursday's opening round.

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)