REUTERS - U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy has taken a leaf out of Tiger Woods' book by limiting his playing schedule this year in a bid to prolong his career.
The popular 22-year-old Northern Irishman, the world number two and well established as one of the most exciting players in the game, plans to compete in roughly 23 events in 2012, seven fewer than last season.
"I don't want to be burned out by the time I'm 30," McIlroy told reporters on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's opening round of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"I want to try and prolong my career as much as I can. I sometimes take a little bit too much out of myself, especially at the end of the season.
"The most important time for me in the golf season is from the start of April until the end of August. That's when all the big tournaments are and that's when you want to play your best golf."
Woods, a 14-times major champion, has made an art form of peaking for golf's biggest events and, when fit, has generally played in no more than 22 tournaments worldwide each year.
McIlroy, who clinched his first major title in last year's U.S. Open at Congressional, is eager to return to the major winner's circle and knows he needs to stay as fresh as he can, both mentally and physically.
"All the stuff either side of that (April through August) is more preparation work and making sure that your game is getting ready and your body is physically ready for that time of the year," he said.
"I've got a busy stretch coming up now ... here, Players (Championship), back at Wentworth (England), Memorial (tournament), U.S. Open. I want to play good here and try and build up to the U.S. Open. That's the next big target for me.
"I know I've been criticised a little bit for not playing as much as some other guys leading into these few weeks, but I know I've got a big stretch coming up, and I want to be as fresh as possible for this."
McIlroy, who won his first PGA Tour title at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship, returns to Quail Hollow Club this week for only his second tournament in the last two months.
In his most recent start, he tied for 40th at the Masters, fading over the weekend after lying joint third following the second round.
Since then, McIlroy has barely touched a club. He spent time with his girlfriend, Danish tennis professional Caroline Wozniacki, in Europe and only returned to golfing practice in Florida last week.
"I'm trying to find the perfect balance between golf and having a normal life and everything else," said McIlroy.
"For me there's more to life than just golf. I don't know if people are surprised to hear that, but I have a lot more going on in my life than just golf."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)