Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday that he is not feeling extra pressure this week as the British Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, and is hoping home fans can help him end a five-year major drought.
The world No 3 is the bookmakers’ favourite to lift the Claret Jug for the second time on Sunday, despite not having claimed a major title since the 2014 PGA Championship.
He said in the past he struggled being the focus of attention at Irish Opens, although he did win that tournament in 2016.
“I think it’s probably easier this week because it’s such a big tournament,” said McIlroy, who opens his title tilt at Royal Portrush on Thursday alongside US Open winner Gary Woodland and England’s Paul Casey.
“You’ve got the best players in the world here, and I don’t feel like I’m the centre of attention. I’m here to enjoy myself. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 68 years for the tournament to come back here. But at the same time, I mightn’t get an opportunity to play an Open Championship here again.
“I’m really just treating it as a wonderful experience and one that I really want to enjoy. I’m going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can’t help you, then nothing can.”
McIlroy fired a course-record 61 on the Dunluce Links at the age of just 16 in 2005, and is one of three Northern Irish major champions in the field along with Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
He said his first memories of Portrush came as a child when watching his father play. “I remember chipping around the chipping green, being seven or eight years of age, my dad out playing on the Dunluce,” added McIlroy, who played a practice round on Tuesday.
“Portrush... At least the golf club, has been a big part of my upbringing. It’s sort of surreal that it’s here. Even driving in yesterday, when you’re coming in on the road and you look to the right and you’ve got the second tee... I don’t know who was teeing off, maybe (American player) Tony Finau and someone else, (it was) sort of strange to see them here. But it’s really cool.”
‘It’s the same golf course’
Since McIlroy’s record the course has been renovated, with the seventh and eighth new holes. But the 30-year-old said he did not have to spend too much time preparing on the course, such is his familiarity with it.
“I had dinner booked with a parents on Saturday night at 8:00, thinking I’m going to have to spend some time around the greens and just prepare. And I got on the road back home and rang them and said, ‘Can we move dinner up?’ Because I finished early. There’s no difference. It’s the same golf course.”
McIlroy has been in strong form this year, winning twice, including the Players’ Championship, and posting 11 top-10 finishes. He also finished in a tie for second at the Open at Carnoustie last year. “I think it’s probably the most consistent period of golf I’ve ever played,” the 2014 champion said.
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