A continuing pursuit of greatness means the venues of Rory McIlroy’s successes will matter as much the victories. In what possibly represented an act of needless self-deprecation, McIlroy said that winning the US Open at Oakmont this week may represent his finest achievement.
The 27-year-old conceded his four major championship victories have arrived in favourable circumstances. Oakmont, in contrast, provides one of the stiffest tests and only patience, precision and discipline will prevail.
“I’d be very proud if I won on a course like this,” McIlroy said. “The majors that I have won have been soft, under par and more suited to my style of game. To be able to win on a course like this with the conditions the way they are, it would maybe be my biggest accomplishment in the game.
“It definitely would make me feel like a more complete player. I definitely feel like I’m a more disciplined and more experienced player than I was a couple years ago. I can see nothing but a benefit to that this week.
“It’s a great test of golf. Every shot you hit, you’re under pressure to hit a great shot because you can’t really miss it. You have to get the ball in play. You really need to put the ball on the fairway, that’s a huge premium.
“If you get your ball on the fairway, you’ve just got to make sure you leave yourself below the hole. Even in some cases, that may mean missing the green.
“You know you’re going to be put under a lot of pressure on basically every single shot you hit. So you have to be prepared for that. You have to be prepared for how mentally demanding it’s going to be, how much concentration you’re going to need.”
Further motivation for McIlroy is the chance to join an outstanding list of champions here: Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan among them.
“I would expect the more established players in the game and the players who are near the top of the world rankings to do well because it is a course that can separate the players who are playing well from the players that are just slightly off their games,” McIlroy said.
“If guys are playing well and they’re confident, you’ll maybe get it around in under par but the guys who are struggling, it will really magnify that weakness and you’ll see a lot of high scores as well.”
Understandably, betting favouritism lies with the world No1, Jason Day. The Australian laughed off any notion of Oakmont proving intimidatory.
“This is one tournament that is very stressful and I feel like I thrive under stress,” Day said. “You have to have a good attitude regardless of what the situation is. You saw it last year at Chambers Bay with a lot of the professionals complaining about the greens. That just doesn’t help. This year, we have got tough rough. The greens are tough. Practically the whole course is tough. You’ve just got to go with it, try to play your best. Sometimes attitude is huge.”
Danny Willett, who will spend the first two rounds in the company of McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, has reasserted concerns over the Olympic Games in Rio. Willett will seek assurances regarding the Zika virus before confirming – or otherwise – his participation in Team GB.
“I’d love to go but it’s still up in the air,” the Masters champion said. “I think it would be fantastic to be able to be in and around Olympians. I think it would be a fantastic honour to go and play. But I’d never put my family or myself in any threats to play a golf tournament, regardless of what it is. Hopefully the threat has settled down by then and we can go.”
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