Rory McIlroy’s last shot in an Open Championship was his winning putt at Hoylake in 2014.
He followed that up by winning the US PGA title in Valhalla a month later, and now readily admits he would have been surprised to hear he would still be stuck, if that is the word, on four major titles almost two years later.
Five major chances have come and gone since, and he missed out on a sixth at St Andrews last year due to the ankle ligament injury he picked up on a football field. Though Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and, most recently, Dustin Johnson have surpassed him in the rankings, the former world No1 is justifiably unconcerned and supremely confident he can still beat any and all of them.
“If I focus on myself and make sure that I’m playing the best I can, I’m pretty confident that if I go out and play my best golf, I’m going to win more times than not,” he says. “I’ve got four major championships and I’d love to add to that tally, just as those other guys would love to add to the one or two majors that they have.
“I feel that my game has been quite consistent apart from in 2013, when I didn’t play well, and it’s the only time I dropped out of the top 10. I’m happy where my game is, I can’t worry about other guys.”
Justin Rose does not feel there is a problem with his Ryder Cup team-mate and was surprised at suggestions that McIlroy, with one win this season, is struggling. “I’m not seeing a huge drop-off in form,” says Rose. “He’s just not at his very, very best right now, but you can’t be at your best all the time. He could easily win three, four, five of the next six or seven events. He’s not a player you should worry about, really. He’s talented and he’ll be fine.”
It is also worth noting that the last time the Open was at Troon, in 2004, Tiger Woods was perceived to be stuck, without a major in two years and with a mere eight to his name, although that run was to end at the 2005 Masters and by the middle of 2008 he had racked up another five.
One major that may have made a difference to McIlroy and kept the naysayers at bay for a little longer was last year’s Open but despite his regret at missing a chance to compete on a course that suits him, the Northern Irishman says he still managed to enjoy the spectacle on TV, even though he missed the play-off as he went off to rehabilitate the ankle. “I’d earmarked St Andrews since 2010,” he admits. “I feel that of all the courses on the Open rota, that’s my best chance to win. I felt like I was going in there with some form.”
Troon is another matter, of course, and, as is the case with the vast majority of the 156-man field, the course was completely unknown to him after a 12-year gap between Open Championships. The 27-year-old’s preparations involved two full rounds late last week, after which he went off and practised playing in a left-to-right wind to deal with the expected conditions on the back nine come tournament time. before completing another 18 holes on Tuesday. He has also been working on adjustments to his swing and grip which he expects to help him be able to commit and trust in his shots better.
Putting has been an issue this year and, though he switched to a cross-handed grip in the spring and won the Irish Open with the stroke favoured by Spieth – McIlroy took 127 putts in the four rounds – he says his ball-striking was what won it for him rather than anything that happened on the short grass, and has since switched back to the more conventional grip. He is also happy to point out that he has since produced two of his best weeks on the greens, at the Memorial and the French Open. “One of the big things this year why I haven’t won more is not because of making birdies, but I haven’t limited the damage,” he says. “I’ve made too many bogeys. Whether that comes from maybe being a little bit aggressive at some points to being a little tentative … committing and trusting myself.”
Even an eight or nine at Troon’s 123-yard Postage Stamp 8th hole on Tuesday, a case of getting stuck in the front right bunker for at least four of the shots, could not dampen his relish for this week’s challenge. “I think the course is pretty self-explanatory,” he says. “The greens are quite flat and there is not a lot of learning to do. Just make sure you’re comfortable with the clubs you’re hitting off the tees. Once you put it in play, you’ve got a chance to make birdies.”
The challenge starts on Thursday at 9.36am when he is out in a marquee three-ball with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Bubba Watson, the two-times Masters champion. McIlroy is back in Open mode and with a point to prove. That’s just the way he likes it.
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