Rory McIlroy returns to the US Open with a tale of three majors. His Open Championship victory at Royal Liverpool last July is pertinent in respect of Chambers Bay, given it endorsed an ability to win on a links venue.
In McIlroy’s view, this recently created Seattle property “plays more like a links than some links courses”. The following month, McIlroy endorsed his status as the finest player in the world with his second US PGA Championship triumph. He was riding the crest of a golfing wave.
By the time McIlroy arrived at the Masters in April, he was in the spotlight as never before. He was seeking to complete a career grand slam of majors, with failure to achieve that surely linked in part to a level of background noise. Here McIlroy is back on the big stage, refreshed and, he feels, with a game which suits.
“Just being able to go about my business,” said McIlroy of the difference between the first two majors of this season. “And obviously not fly under the radar but there’s not as much attention or as much hype.
“I can get here and just do my thing without much worry. And I guess, as well, there’s not as much on my mind about what I can achieve. It’s hugely important, a chance to win a second US Open and the fifth major, and that’s all important, but there was just so much hype and so much attention around Augusta. This one feels very different.
“This is really like playing an Open Championship in the United States. That’s what it’s going to be like this week, apart from the fact that it’s about 20 degrees warmer. I really like the course. I think it sets up well for my game. You’ve got to be aggressive off the tee. You’ve got to hit driver.
“I think a place like this can separate the field a lot. This is the sort of course that if you’re just slightly off, it’ll magnify that. But it’ll really reward people who are hitting good shots, are confident and their short games are sharp. I definitely think this is the sort of course that you could see the guys that are really playing well and are confident with the set-up and how they approach it, they could really separate themselves from the rest of the field.”
Recent history is in McIlroy’s favour. Four of the past five US Opens have been won by European players. “I think there’s a direct correlation between Europeans winning Ryder Cups and Europeans winning major championships,” he said. “I think it’s given Europeans the confidence to come over here and compete – three of the four major championships are in this country.
“Most likely you’re competing against players who you compete against at the Ryder Cup. So I think having that success in the Ryder Cup has translated into major victories for European players.”
Mcllroy, who won the 2011 US Open at Congressional, is clearly more comfortable with his status as the pre-eminent player in golf than, for example, two years ago. Growing maturity is the logical explanation for that. At 26, he is willing to speak expansively about what would ensure a lasting legacy as a world No1.
“I think the biggest thing is motivation. It’s setting your goals all the time and trying to achieve those,” McIlroy said. “In a golf perspective, it’s just trying to get better, trying to achieve more things and set goals for yourself and to try to accomplish them.
“And then, off the course, you have to be stable, be happy, keep it simple. I think that’s the big thing. If you want your longevity in golf you’re going back to the days of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. They all had very stable personal lives and kept life fairly simple. I think that’s a big key to having a long and successful career.
“If you look back at the last four or five years, I guess I’ve won more majors than anyone else in that time period. So do I feel like the best player in the world? Yes. And obviously I want to go out every week, try to back that up and show that.”
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